Pete Sessions and Darrell Issa: Who are these Obamacare navigators?

Published: Dec 15, 2013

Author: By Rep. Pete Sessions and Rep. Darrell Issa

To help the American people navigate the onerous and confusing requirements of signing up for Obamacare exchanges, the administration spent millions of taxpayer dollars to create the navigator program. Disturbingly, news reports from the last four weeks have highlighted numerous examples of fraudulent activity related to health navigators in Texas. So — who are these navigators and what is their role in Obamacare?

To help answer that question, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a field hearing Monday at the Charles Eisemann Center in Richardson. Implementation of the program — much like the rest of the law — is off to a rocky start. This hearing follows eight months of Oversight Committee investigation and will address concerns that Obamacare’s navigator program lacks basic federal guidelines to protect Americans’ private information, reports of fraud and what officials in Texas are doing about it.

Funded by grants of taxpayer dollars to nongovernment groups, navigators are allowed to ask Americans for confidential financial and personally identifiable information. This is concerning for a number of reasons.

First, the law does not bar — or even require screening for — convicted felons, including individuals convicted of identity theft or fraud. This is particularly dangerous because navigators may have access to applicants’ personally identifiable information, including Social Security number, date of birth, address, phone number and annual income. This poorly conceived program endangers families and individuals across the country by heightening the risk of identity theft or financial loss.

In letters, interviews with administration officials, hearings and reports, Congress has repeatedly asked the administration: Why has the federal government failed to issue proper consumer protection guidelines for Obamacare’s navigators? Even as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted before Congress that the lack of federal requirements raises a “possible” problem, the administration has continued to call common-sense safeguards “cumbersome.”

Second, navigators are only required to take a five- to 20-hour online training course and pass a quiz that they can take as many times as needed. The lack of sufficient training for navigators stands in stark contrast to the requirements placed upon health care underwriters whose job it is to help people enroll in health insurance plans. The American people deserve to know why the administration believes that inadequately trained navigators are qualified to help guide them through such an important process as signing up for health care.

Finally, the lack of federal oversight of the navigator program has already led to reports of improper and illegal behavior, including two instances in North Texas. In Dallas, a navigator recommended that an applicant lie about his income in order to qualify for additional subsidies to lessen the costs of his health care plan. In Irving, a part-time receptionist who worked at a navigator center encouraged an individual to lie about his tobacco use to keep his premiums down.

Despite concerns of inadequate training, navigators have been educating Americans about the health exchanges and facilitating enrollment since Oct. 1. Fortunately, states such as Texas have proposed rules that will protect Americans’ private information by requiring health navigators to pass background checks and complete additional privacy training. Proper consumer privacy protection guidelines should be a priority for this administration, particularly in a program like Obamacare that requires Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine for noncompliance.

While President Barack Obama and other allies of Obamacare continue to publicly tout the law, they have done too little to address serious problems that come with it. This hearing, one of a series of hearings investigating the flawed implementation of Obamacare, strives to get the answers that the American people deserve about Obamacare’s navigator program.

Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions represents Texas’ 32nd Congressional District. Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa represents California’s 49th Congressional District. They wrote this exclusively for The Dallas Morning News.