White House Blasts Congressional Probe of Obamacare Navigators as ‘Republican Obsession’

The White House on Monday blasted a congressional report that found fault with the Obamacare navigators and said some have encouraged fraud, provided consumers with false information and didn’t properly monitor consumer privacy information.

AP

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which did the investigation, held a field hearing in Dallas Monday on the navigator program that was created under the Affordable Care Act as an outreach program to encourage private organizations to facilitate enrollment in the health care exchanges.

“This is just one more data point in the Republican obsession in sabotaging Obamacare,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “All navigators must complete about 20 hours of training, including training on privacy issues. This training is not a one-time only process. Navigators have regular refresher opportunities where they can share updates, receive information and address updates as they are in the process of helping people in their communities.”

Carney said navigators must learn strenuous regulations about keeping information private, and portrayed the committee investigation as attacking all navigators.

“When Republicans attack navigators, they’re attacking folks like the University of Arkansas, the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, the Visiting Nurse Service of Iowa, Ascension Health, the Ohio Association of Food Banks, and the National Urban League,” Carney said. “These are just a few of the organizations that actually hire and supervise these navigators. These are people who are actually engaging in an effort to help Americans who want health insurance to get it. So, you know, I think it’s pretty evident on scrutiny, that this is an effort in a partisan way to sabotage the Affordable Care Act that’s part of a long line of efforts. Let’s put some faces to names.”

One of the groups Carney mentioned, the Urban League, was actually named in the House Oversight Committee’s report.

“Navigators from the Urban League of Dallas were captured on video, encouraging applicants to lie on their health insurance application so the applicants could qualify for tax subsidies,” the report said. “Navigators were also recorded advising an applicant to lie about her smoking habits to obtain a lower monthly premium. It was later discovered that two of the so-called navigators involved in the incident were assisting consumers with their applications even though they had not completed their training and certification requirements. The navigator organization in question fired one navigator, and suspended two others.”

The report also includes the following findings:

• “Navigators Were Unprepared for Website Crash and Lacked a Contingency Plan: In a Committee briefing, Gary Cohen, a top HHS official admitted that Navigators lacked direction in the early days because ‘it took a while to know what was happening.’Also during the briefing, another HHS official, Mandy Cohen, stated that “it seems like in hindsight,” there should have been contingency plans for the website’s failure. HealthCare.gov “War Room” meeting notes, obtained by the Committee, show confused HHS officials struggling to advise Navigators about how to respond to the inoperable website.”

• “Mountain Project, Inc., a Navigator grantee organization in North Carolina, has been collecting and mailing paper applications on behalf of applicants, in violation of Navigator rules and procedures: According to the Navigator Standard Operating Procedures Manual, ‘[navigators] may not mail applications for consumers.’ Neither Mr. Gary Cohen, nor Ms. Cohen, nor Ms. Gottlich – the three HHS briefers – were aware of the report, despite the fact that Chairman Issa’s November 7, 2013 letter to Secretary Sebelius regarding problems with the Navigator and Assister programs discussed it at length.”

• “During the November 21, 2013 committee staff briefing, Mr. Cohen stated that he did not anticipate tax fraud to be an issue, despite numerous questions from the Committee in letters to Secretary Sebelius, at a congressional hearing, and in a transcribed interview: Mr. Cohen admitted there is a need for better training on the issue through the ongoing education process, and he did not ruling out requiring Navigators to report tax fraud in the future.  To date, however, the Administration has not taken the necessary steps to prevent this type of tax fraud.”

• “One self-identified Navigator gave a television interview in which she told viewers blatantly incorrect information: that applicants’ credit scores could impact their eligibility for certain plans.”

Carney said he was concerned about the committee obtaining information from Obamacare contractors that worked on the troubled HealthCare.gov website.

“The concern is that there has been not exactly a demonstration of care taken in the release of documents from that committee,” Carney said. “We would have, in general, concerns about the potential for the release of information that could provide guidelines to would-be hackers to any federal IT system.”

A House Oversight Committee representative said in a statement to TheBlaze that they are taking “steps to secure the information” they have obtained.

“Documents that administration officials fought to keep out of Congress’ possession indicate that HealthCare.gov launched with vulnerabilities that HHS knew could have detrimental consequences for website users,” the committee representative said. “While this disturbs us, we recognize the seriousness of the situation and are taking appropriate steps to secure the information we have obtained and consult with experts on sensitive technical information. We only wish the administration had taken security concerns this seriously before launching its website.”

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