December 13 2013
More Navigators to the Rescue?
Patrice J. Lee
Yesterday, Health and Human Services (HHS) announced grants of $58 million to over 1,150 community health centers across the country to hire more ObamaCare navigators. These new funds for FY 2014 are added to the $158 million already spent on outreach and enrollment services. As a reminder, navigators are counselors that assist Americans in enrolling in ObamaCare.
Here’s more from the HHS press release:
“Today’s awards build upon the efforts of health centers across the country as uninsured Americans gain health insurance coverage,” Secretary Sebelius said. “This investment means that health centers can provide expanded assistance for people in communities nationwide looking for resources to help them understand their insurance options and enroll in affordable coverage.”
With these awards, health centers will be able to meet immediate needs, including expanding the hours of existing outreach and enrollment assistance workers, and hiring new or temporary outreach and enrollment assistance workers. Today, health centers operate more than 9,000 service delivery sites nationwide and serve more than 21 million patients annually.
“Having more opportunities for face-to-face enrollment assistance from trusted resources at local health centers means that more people will get the help they need to sign up by the end of the open enrollment period on March 31, 2014,” said Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Administrator Mary Wakefield, Ph.D, R.N.
We’ve reported extensively on navigators over the past year and the potential problems that the Administration’s lax hiring and oversight of navigators pose for Americans. Last month, undercover videos exposed ObamaCare navigators advising applicants to commit fraud against the federal government.
Because ObamaCare enrollment is so far behind goals for the year’s end and for March of next year, the Administration is sidestepping proper vetting and oversight of navigators. They need more hands on deck to haul more bodies into ObamaCare. The problem is that haste doesn’t always deliver optimal results. Healthcare.gov is a great demonstration of that.
Not everyone is on board with the lax requirements for navigators. The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas insurers are proposing that navigators get background checks and training:
The Texas Department of Insurance on Tuesday proposed background checks and 40 hours of additional training for the federally paid “navigators” who help consumers sign up for coverage under the federal health law.
The department called for state testing and registration of navigators. The tentative rules would make organizations that hire navigators post sureties or carry malpractice insurance to pay out tens of thousands of dollars for their potential “wrongful acts.”
Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have warned that Texans could fall prey to identity theft if there isn’t more thorough vetting and oversight of navigators. There are an estimated 200 or so such workers in Texas, hired at a federal cost of nearly $11 million. They help people weigh their insurance options in the new online marketplace.
I’m not sure what is worse: that navigators don’t have background checks or that Texas spent $11 million to hire about 200 navigators.
Perhaps instead of hiring more navigators, Kathleen Sebelius should investigate the backgrounds and records of the current navigators to ensure that they won’t pose a security risk to Americans or encourage Americans to engage in fraudulent activity.