Addressing questions regarding the millions of Americans struggling to access and navigate healthcare.gov, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney makes it sound so simple, telling a national audience that “you are better served by using a navigator…”
These “navigators” are on the front line of the implementation of the President’s health care plan.
You would expect that people placed in such an important position would have to undergo rigorous training to ensure the most comprehensive understanding of the Affordable Care Act, since they are the gateway to attaining care.
Unfortunately, a new report released by a Congressional Oversight Committee reveals a shocking level of mismanagement and incompetence that “induces fraudulent behavior and poses real threats to the safety of consumers’ personally identifiable information…”
In Dallas, “navigators” were caught on tape “encouraging applicants to lie on their health insurance application so the applicants could qualify for tax subsidies.”
A smoker was advised to lie about her smoking habits to get a lower monthly premium.
That’s right, the very people charged with implementing this public policy debacle are actively encouraging people to game the system.
You’d think that the Department of Health and Human Services was vigilantly monitoring failures inside the Navigators program. Unfortunately, but not surprising, big government prefers to stay ignorant.
The Oversight report reveals that even when notified by Congress of specific examples of incompetence and fraud, HHS isn’t paying attention.
The report shares the story of Mountain Project, Inc., “a Navigator grantee organization in North Carolina,” that was “collecting and mailing paper applications on behalf of applicants” in clear violation of the Navigator standard Operating Procedures Manual. This violation of procedures was raised in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on November 7th. However, when three HHS officials were sent to “brief” congressional investigators on November 21st, they were unaware of the incident.
During the briefing, the Director of the Consumer Support Group revealed that “due to budget restrictions, CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has conducted only one site to a Navigator organization,” and there were no plans to implement a program to monitor compliance with the proper guidelines and procedures.
Despite being the public face of this health care reform implementation, the “navigators” themselves have been kept in the dark. The Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight revealed that no one inside the administration informed “navigators” of the possibility of healthcare.gov not being functional.
The Director conceded, “[We] tried to stay with the website as long as possible out of caution, but at some point it was clear that [we] had to go with the paper and call center.”
Meeting notes obtained by congressional investigators from the healthcare.gov “War Room” depict HHS officials struggling to advise “navigators” how to respond when healthcare.gov crashed. It took three weeks after healthcare.gov languished in inoperability before HHS instructed “navigators to use paper applications rather than go through the call center.”
What’s disturbing about this is paper applications expose Americans to increased risks, since these applications include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers and income data.
What most Americans don’t know is that the Administration consciously decided to implement this program without requiring the “navigators” to undergo background checks, despite having access to very sensitive and personal information such as Social Security numbers and tax returns.
Secretary Sebelius admitted during a congressional hearing that it was “possible” for a convicted felon to become a “navigator” without anyone ever knowing it.
Ask yourself: do you trust Washington with your personal and private information?
Don’t worry, though, the people in charge of this program have told Congress that they “do not anticipate tax fraud to be an issue,” even though the Dallas Urban League Navigators coached applicants to under-report their income.
For Americans worried about verifying whether or not the “navigator” they are talking to is one of the 2,500 individuals certified by CMS, you’re out of luck. The Administration will not release the list, meaning you just have to “trust” that whoever you speak with is not posing as a “navigator” to get your personal and private information. So much for “trust but verify.”
The real question is how many Americans will be the victims of identity theft and fraud because the Obama Administration was just too lazy to do anything to protect you?
Kurt Bardella is the President of Endeavor Strategic Communications and a former Senior Advisor at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.