GOP Sens: Obamacare Navigator Program lacks proper consumer safeguards

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A group of Republican senators Thursday demanded more answers from the Obama administration about Obamacare’s Navigator Program, expressing concern that it does not employ the appropriate safeguards to protect consumer information.

“The unreasonably low standard for becoming a navigator not only undermines the state’s ability to ensure consumers are protected but raises questions about the appropriate use of federal resources and the protection of highly sensitive consumer information,” nine GOP senators, led by Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch of Utah, wrote in a letter [pdf] to Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius.

The Obamacare Navigator Program provides grants to organizations to assist individuals with enrollment into the new health insurance exchanges and, according to the letter, could allow the navigators to have access to sensitive financial information.

“We write to express concern regarding the recently published Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Exchange Functions: Standards for Navigators and Non-Navigator Assistance Personnel notice of proposed rulemaking,” the nine lawmakers wrote. “The guidelines you have proposed for navigators, assisters, application counselors and other consumer outreach personnel provide significantly less protection to patients and consumers than the states have provided through licensed insurance producers for decades.”

According to the nine Republicans — Hatch, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn — the requirements and training involved in becoming a navigator are lenient and could open consumers to the threat of fraud and identity theft.

“[T]he standards proposed by your Department could result in a convicted felon receiving federal dollars and gaining access to confidential taxpayer information.  The same standards allow any individual who has registered with the exchange and completed two days of training to facilitate enrollment, as if the decision to purchase health insurance is similar to the decision of registering to vote,” the senators wrote to Sebelius.

The lawmakers request that by Aug. 1, HHS provide more details about navigator requirements and training as well as information about navigator’s ability to access sensitive information, enforcement of proper procedure, and HHS’ ability to protect consumers from fraud.

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