Update: 5:25 P.M. ET
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are putting the screws to entities tapped by Obamacare to help Americans sign up and obtain coverage under the law, drawing charges of intimidation and obstruction form the leading Democrat on the panel.
The Affordable Care Act provides for $67 million to hire 105 “Navigators” tasked with helping people learn about their health care options in the law’s insurance exchanges and answer questions like whether they’re eligible for subsidies or qualify for Medicaid.
The Navigators, who were announced by the Department of Health and Human Services on Aug. 15, have become a target of suspicion among conservatives, with allegations that liberal groups like Planned Parenthood are the recipient of Navigator grants and that Obama cronies stand to benefit from the arrangement.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are now probing whether the Navigators have sufficient training, are protecting patient privacy, have business conflicts of interest, or are being pressured to favor some insurers over others.
In a letter dated Aug, 29, 2013, on committee letterhead, 15 Republicans demand documents and responses to questions about Navigator organizations, their workers, their processes of monitoring and supervising employees, their efforts to “safeguard an individual’s personal and medicinal information,” whether or not they’ve communicated with a health insurer or provider, and “all documentation and communications related to your Navigator grant.”
The letter, obtained by TPM, gives the Navigators a Sept. 13 deadline to submit the answers and documents. In addition to Upton, the letter is signed by oversight subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and health subcommittee Chairman Joseph Pitts (R-PA), among others. (See the rest of the signatories below.)
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, fired back Friday afternoon in a strongly worded letter to Upton, accusing him of abusing his authority to advance the GOP’s “fishing expeditions” against Obamacare.
“There is no legitimate predicate for these letters and no evidence of any malfeasance from any of the organizations,” he wrote. “It is an abuse of your oversight authority to launch groundless investigations into civic organizations that are trying to make health reform a success. … I urge you to reconsider these misguided investigations.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human services called the House GOP investigation “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.”
Obamacare expert Tim Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University who supports the law, explained that most of the Navigator programs “don’t have the resources to hire lawyers to fight this, nor the time to respond at this very busy time.”
The letter was not made public by the Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans who spearheaded it, and a GOP committee spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The success of the Affordable Care Act hinges on whether the insurance exchanges run smoothly. Enrollment begins Oct. 1 and coverage takes effect Jan. 1.