By Grace-Marie Turner
Starting October 1, armies of “Navigators” will begin asking Americans very personal questions to learn if they qualify for taxpayer-subsidized insurance under ObamaCare.
Thirteen attorneys general have expressed deep concerns about what the Navigators are going to do with the information. They are rightly worried about identity theft and fraud as consumers reveal Social Security numbers, addresses, employer information, income, home addresses, children’s names, health habits, and much more.
Now Congress is asking some questions of its own, including how Navigators and the organizations they work for will be spending $67 million in federal grants they received last month.
The groups are outraged that they are being questioned. “It is shocking. It is absolutely shocking,” says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, that received a $1.9 million grant.
Letters signed by 15 Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee request information from 51 organizations – including hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups and community organizers – about how they intend to use the money. A total of 104 organizations shared the $67 million in grants.
“It is Congress’ responsibility to conduct careful oversight and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-TN. “Americans have every right to know how their hard-earned dollars are being spent to implement the president’s health care law.”
The ranking member on the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, who is a master at congressional oversight, blasted back with a letter of his own: “You have opened investigations of every group that received Navigator grants in 11 states,” he wrote. “And you are requesting that they provide briefings and answer a long list of questions on organization budgets and employee training, education, monitoring, review, and supervision.”
The questions Upton and 14 other members of his committee are asking are sensible questions designed to make sure that taxpayer money is being spent appropriately.
For example, the committee asks the organizations receiving the grants to provide a written description of:
- the work that will be performed with the funds obtained via your Navigator grant including a detailed description of how this funding will be utilized
- the training or education employees, volunteers, or representatives must complete
- the processes and procedures in place to monitor, review, or otherwise supervise your employees, volunteers, or representatives
- how your organization will utilize the information obtained during performance of your Navigator grant
There’s more, but you get the picture. Does this sound like an outrageous request from Members of Congress?
It apparently does to Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ. He was quoted as saying the investigation is “another attempt to undermining the Affordable Care Act…using harassment and intimidation tactics, and what amounts to modern McCarthyism, with no justification for their actions.”
The Energy and Commerce Committee requested the information from the Navigator organizations by September 13. “We are simply asking these organizations who received Navigator grants – tell us how you will spend the money and how you will protect personal financial and health information during the enrollment process,” Blackburn said. “It is our job to ask those questions.”
Waxman counters: “You are insisting on voluminous document productions by September 13, just when these groups need to be focused on their mission of helping uninsured Americans enroll for coverage. Indeed, it appears that these requests may have been sent solely to divert the resources of small, local community groups, just as they are needed to help with the new health care law.”
One has to wonder how many other groups are not accustomed to answering questions about how they are spending millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
Posted on Forbes: Health Matters September 9, 2013