July 24 2014
An Ex-Navigator’s Story
Jillian Kay Melchior
Since the beginning of Obamacare enrollment, critics have expressed concerns that some of the nearly 50,000 navigators, who are supposed to provide a nonpartisan service by helping people sign up for health coverage, would actually use their position to advance political agendas or to organize voters. As John Fund wrote last year, many of the organizations that received navigator grants have close ties to the Democratic party.
Recently, the Connecticut health exchange decertified one of its Obamacare navigators on the grounds that she had done just that. She had been repeatedly warned about “using [her] position . . . to promote [her] political agenda on numerous occasions,” according to records obtained by National Review Online.
Though the records provided by Access Health CT redacted the name, Linda Yannone of Sherman, Conn., confirmed to NRO that she was the navigator in question. But she says she believes the health exchange was wrong to deem her behavior — which she describes as volunteer work in pursuit of social justice — inappropriate political activity.
“I just thought it was very wrong that people didn’t have health care,” Yannone says. “That’s it. That’s not a political agenda. I mean, I don’t even know what a political agenda is. It’s injustice to have people losing their homes and being stuck in terrible jobs that they hate, just because of insurance, or terrible relationships, abusive relationships, because of lack of health care. So this is why I worked so hard on this. . . . If that’s political, then yeah, I was political because all I want is for people to have health care. Other political agendas — I like clean water, clean air, jobs for everyone. If these are political — I don’t think so. I think it’s justice.”
Tammy Preisner, the legal-compliance manager for Access Health CT, told NRO in an e-mail, “Our ethics policy, which [Yannone] signed, prohibits the [navigators] from using their position to promote political agendas.” A spokesperson for the health exchange declined to comment further, and, by deadline, the exchange had not responded to questions about how many warnings Yannone had received prior to her decertification.
In a March 22 e-mail to the manager of Connecticut’s navigator program, Kathleen Tallarita, the health exchange’s government-affairs and outreach manager, wrote of how Yannone had “received several warnings about using her position as an Assister to advance her political views.”
Tallarita continued: “Thought I would let you know that [Yannone] was getting into loud debates with constituents while other constituents were at the microphone, waving her hands above her head . . . and overall [becoming] quite a distraction during the event as an Access Health rep. I was a bit taken back. If you inform anyone, please don’t say where it came from but I thought you should know.”
In another instance, Yannone sent an e-mail to other Access Health assisters stating that “the capitalism of health care is simply inappropriate and untenable” and urging them to sign a MoveOn.org petition that read:
The People’s health is a matter of public safety and a basic human right. It is not an optional commodity to be capitalism-ized and tossed into the marketplace for gambling and profiteering. Rather, it is like the FDA, roads, national defense, etc., to be supported by taxes. Therefore, please introduce National Health Care with a single payer system, aka “Medicare for all.”
The records provided by the exchange to NRO quoted an unidentified individual discussing Yannone’s e-mail about the MoveOn.org petition:
There seems to be an assumption by some political groups sympathetic to Obamacare that it will fail and we will have to go to a single payer system. . . . The bottom line is that we should be trying to make AHCT work; . . . demonizing “privatized systems” and promoting single payer undermines our efforts. I did not sign the petition and I do not feel it is appropriate to distribute it to AHCT assisters.
Yannone tells NRO that as a novice to such work, “I didn’t know what was right or what was wrong, proper form, but I didn’t see anything wrong with sharing a petition if anyone wanted to sign on with it to [support] single-payer.” She adds that after Access Health CT approached her about the petition, she wrote a note of apology.
Yannone had also written a letter to the office of Representative Jim Himes (D., Conn.) on March 21, the day before her decertification. “I attended the Town Hall meeting in Shelton, CT representing Access Health CT as an assister,” she wrote. “I listened and participated. I am DEEPLY concerned that [Himes] would state he is committed to the care of our environment and yet he would support safe FRACKING. FRACKING??? What is he thinking? Please encourage our representative to do everything in in [sic] power to prevent destruction of our natural resources of water, air and people’s health by encouraging and voting for safe renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and other non toxic, non destructive energy technologies.”
Yannone says that she mentioned Access Health CT only to identify herself and give Himes’s office some context, but that she intended to send the e-mail as a private citizen. Yannone adds that she remains frustrated by her decertification, which she calls “an injustice.” She says she received only $5,000 for her work, which lasted from the beginning of enrollment in October until she was decertified on March 22, and that she far surpassed her enrollment goal of 200.
“I just didn’t think it was right,” Yannone says. “I was the most successful one. I did 1,100 enrollments. . . . It made everyone else look bad. Basically, that’s what they didn’t like, I think.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.