Signing people up for Obamacare? House Republicans have some questions for you.

August 30, 2013

(Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Two weeks ago, the Obama administration handed out $67 million in grants to more than 100 organizations that were meant to help Americans enroll in Obamacare.

Now, House Republicans are stepping up an investigation into how those funds are being used, requesting that grantees submit detailed information about their plans for the coming month.

The grant money is meant for groups to hire special guides, known as "navigators," who can assist individuals with shopping for Obamacare health plans. The whole idea is that signing up for health insurance is difficult, so the law included a position that was meant to walk people through the process.

The navigators have become, as of late, a flashpoint in the Obamacare debate. More than a dozen states, my colleague Sandhya Somashekhar reported this week, have put restrictions on the work that these guides can perform.

"In Ohio, for example, navigators won’t be allowed to compare and contrast plans for customers," she write. "And in Missouri, which has a Democratic governor but a Republican legislature, they are required to immediately cut off contact with any customers who at some point have talked to a professional broker or agent."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been an especially vocal critic of the navigator program, arguing recently that "Navigators may increase the likelihood of privacy violations and identity theft"

A four-page questionnaire from the House Energy and Commerce committee went out Thursday, asking these groups, largely nonprofits, to provide detailed information about the work they plan to  conduct. Answers should be returned, the letter instructs, by Sept. 13.

"Provide a written description of the work that will be performed with the funds obtained via your Navigator grant," the letter instructs. "This would include a description of the number of employees, volunteers or representatives that will be utilized and pay and duties for each, as well as a written description of how any portion of the grant may be spent."

Health and Human Services described the letter as a "shameful attempt" to intimidate groups doing Obamacare enrollment.

"This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years," HHS spokesperson Erin Shields Britt said.

The full letter is below:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2013/08/navigator-letter.pdf

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Neil Irwin · August 30, 2013