House Republicans Raise Concerns About ACA’s Exchange Navigators
During a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Tuesday, Republicans continued to press federal health officials for information about the level of access workers in the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchange navigators program will have to consumers' personal and potentially sensitive data, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.
The lawmakers also questioned whether felons would be able to serve in the program and warned that insufficient regulations governing the program could result in bad advice to consumers, according to "Healthwatch" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/21).
Background on Navigators
Under the ACA, each exchange must have two certified navigators, one of which must be a not-for-profit. The navigators are expected to provide "fair, impartial and accurate information that assists consumers with submitting the eligibility application, clarifying distinctions among [qualified health plans] and helping qualified individuals make informed decisions during the health plan selection process." They also will provide additional assistance to consumers with disabilities, limited proficiency in English or who are unfamiliar with health insurance.
In a letter sent last week to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chair Charles Boustany (R-La.) expressed concern that workers hired for the navigators program might have access to "sensitive taxpayer information" (California Healthline, 5/20).
Details of Hearing
Tuesday's hearing was jointly hosted by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the leaders of two subcommittees, who also questioned Sebelius about the issues raised in a separate letter sent earlier this month (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 5/21).
During the hearing, Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements Chair James Lankford (R-Okla.) asked Gary Cohen -- director of HHS' Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight -- whether felons or individuals who have not graduated from high school could become navigators. Lankford noted that navigators potentially could be "walking away" with large amounts of health care and tax information from communities they work in.
Cohen said he was unsure whether high school diplomas or extensive background checks would be required for individuals to qualify for the navigator program, adding that navigators will be required to undergo a 20- to 30-hour online course on the ACA and demonstrate expertise on health insurance that is required of insurance agents.
Republicans also asked whether HHS has the authority to authorize funding for "in-person assisters" in states that set up their own exchanges. According to "Healthwatch," HHS has allocated $54 million in funding grants to train and pay navigators in the 37 states with federally run exchanges. The ACA prohibits exchange grants from being used for navigators in state-run exchanges ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/21).
Cohen acknowledged that navigators' roles in all exchanges will be "essentially the same," but he noted that HHS is allowing states to use their exchange grants to pay navigators for one year as part of outreach and education while setting up the marketplaces (CQ Roll Call, 5/21). After one year, the navigator programs would be funded by the states.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) argued that Republicans are targeting the navigator program as part of efforts to undermine the health reform law ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 5/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.