A damning report from Rep. Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee alleges that the Obama administration's "serious mismanagement" of the healthcare reform law's navigator program has put millions of Americans at risk of having their private information stolen by identity thieves.
The staff report
also reveals that the very navigators who are supposed to help people enroll in health insurance plans are urging consumers — in certain cases — to lie and commit fraud to qualify for or enhance their government subsidies.
The navigator program was launched by the White House supposedly to help guide consumers through the confusing Obamacare sign-up process, including navigating around the troubled HealthCare.gov website.
But the report, which was released in conjunction with a Monday field hearing
in a Dallas suburb, warns that ill-trained navigators are violating navigator rules and procedures while also giving bad advice to applicants about the insurance marketplace and the enrollment process.
Issa, a California Republican who is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the Department of Health and Human Services "lacked a contingency plan for the navigator program after HealthCare.gov failed, leaving consumers open to the risk of identity theft" due to confusion surrounding enrollment for health exchanges."
"Major problems have plagued the Navigator and Assister programs in the first 10 weeks of enrollment," his committee's report states. "Poorly-trained navigators gave consumers incorrect information about the healthcare exchanges, violated HHS rules, and even encouraged applicants to commit tax fraud in some instances."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has admitted that navigators do not need a background check before becoming certified, which means criminals — including those who have been convicted of identity theft — can become Obamacare assisters. They can then get access to sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, date of birth, addresses, phone numbers, and annual income.
The report was drawn up by the committee after HHS officials, including Gary Cohen, the deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, briefed it last month on the troubled navigator outreach program.
The report said, "[The] documents call into question the effectiveness of the navigator program and the Obama administration's ability to safeguard consumer information."
The system "induces fraudulent behavior and poses real threats to the safety of consumers' personally identifiable information, such as one's Social Security number, yearly income, and other sensitive tax information," the report said.
The Oversight Committee also learned that there have been instances where Obamacare navigators have "encouraged consumers to commit tax fraud by underreporting income in order to qualify for Obamacare's health insurance subsidies."
The navigators have assisted applicants before even completing their five- to 20-hour online training course, according to the report, and mailed applications for consumers, which violates "the rule that applicants must mail in the application themselves."
The committee quoted a video released by conservative activist James O'Keefe's Project Veritas in that navigators from the Urban League of Greater Dallas were seen urging consumers to lie on their health insurance applications to qualify for tax subsidies. They were also captured telling one consumer to lie about her smoking habit to reduce her monthly premium.
In another case, an alleged navigator gave a TV interview in which she incorrectly told viewers that credit scores would affect their eligibility for some health insurance plans. It was later revealed that she was not a certified navigator, but a volunteer with a navigator organization.
Also, a navigator organization in North Carolina, Mountain Project Inc., has been mailing application for consumers, disregarding HHS rules.
On Monday, Issa joined forces with Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions to attack the navigator program in an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News,
saying that "while President Barack Obama and other allies of Obamacare continue to publicly tout the law, they have done too little to address serious problems that come with it."
Issa and Sessions said the point of the field hearing in Richardson, Texas, on Monday, one of several investigating "the flawed implementation" of Obamacare, was to help the American people understand the problems surrounding the navigator program.
"The American people deserve to know why the administration believes that inadequately trained navigators are qualified to help guide them through such an important process as signing up for healthcare," they said.
The lawmakers were particularly concerned about the lax security surrounding the navigators when proper consumer privacy protection should be imperative in a program like Obamacare, which requires Americans by law to purchase health insurance or face a fine for noncompliance.
"Fortunately, states such as Texas have proposed rules that will protect Americans' private information by requiring health navigators to pass background checks and complete additional privacy training," Issa and Sessions wrote.
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