Obamacare ‘navigator’ in Kansas has outstanding arrest warrant (UPDATED)

Michael Volpe Contributor
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A woman with an outstanding warrant for her arrest is currently serving as an Obamacare “navigator” in Lawrence, Kansas.

Rosilyn Wells — the Director of Outreach and Enrollment for the Heartland Community Health-care Center (HCHC) — is “the only full-time Affordable Care Act navigator in Lawrence,” according to the Lawrence Journal-World.

Wells works as an “outreach and enrollment assister” for a division within the Department of Health and Human Services called Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).  A press release for HRSA says its programs “complement and align with other federal efforts, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services-funded Navigator program.” Her work involves enrolling people in the Affordable Care Act and helping them understand their choices, and it entails the same access to sensitive financial and health information as a navigator — leading observers to define “assister” as another name for “navigator.”

Wells was certified as an Obamacare navigator despite her financial history, which includes a bankruptcy in 2003, a 2007 civil charge from a local check cashing business called Midwest Checkrite for writing a bad check, being more than $1700 behind on her state tax bill, and having an outstanding arrest warrant in nearby Shawnee County. Wells lives and works in Douglass County.

Reached by phone, The Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office would not elaborate on the specific charges related to Wells’ arrest warrant.

Navigators are creations of the federal government and they are paid to work closely with consumers — and their personal information — to help them navigate the newly-created Obamacare exchanges.

The Obamacare navigator program has fallen under heavy criticism for its privacy pitfalls, with the House Oversight Committee issuing a report only two weeks ago which warned that navigators would not be properly vetted to protect consumers.

The report pointed out navigators would have access to all sorts of personal data.

“[T]he main concern for consumers is the heightened risk of identity theft and financial loss from a poorly managed outreach campaign,” the Oversight Committee report said. “Navigators and Assisters will come into contact with a plethora of personally identifiable information (PII), including an applicant’s Social Security number, date of birth and income, as well as the PII of everyone in an applicant’s household.”

The Obama administration’s decision not to require background checks for navigators compounds the privacy risks, the Oversight Committee wrote.

“In part, substantial risks remain because the Administration decided not to require background checks and fingerprinting of individuals hired by Navigator and Assister organizations,” the committee wrote. “Under the Administration’s plan, unless states have already taken actions to protect their citizens, Navigators and Assisters are not prohibited from hiring convicted felons, including individuals convicted of identity theft or fraud.”

Additionally, Wells’ dual role as Outreach Director for Heartland Community Health Center (HCHC) in Lawrence and as the sole Obamacare navigator for the City of Lawrence could represent a substantial conflict of interest.

The federal navigator program has taken great pains to avoid hiring navigators who are in a position to refer business to their place of employment, according to Katrina McGivern of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved in Topeka, KS, the primary care association of Kansas and a federal navigator grantee in the state.

“Certified navigators are required to help any consumer who requires assistance in the community,” McGivern told The Daily Caller, “whether they are a patient of the specific facility or not. Navigators are not allowed to refer consumers to any specific location to receive care. They are allowed to educate on options in their area.”

McGivern also told TheDC that all navigators must sign a “conflict of interest statement.”

Despite McGivern’s assurances, there remain plenty of reasons for concern. On the website for HCHC, there is a prominently featured advertisement on top for the new Obamacare exchanges, and the link to find out more information leads to a page for Wells, which includes her biography and contact information.

All her navigator work is done out of her office in HCHC, and HCHC has been recognized by HHS as a “Federally Qualified Health Center,” which qualifies HCHC for enhanced Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement and at-cost drug pricing.

Furthermore, according to its 2012 annual report, HCHC is a 2012 grant recipient from HHS for $650,000 in so-called “Community Health Center” funding. Obamacare has provided $11 billion for the expansion of “community health centers.”

Health centers are community-based organizations which generally serve indigent populations with limited or no access to traditional health care. With Obamacare providing either free or reduced health insurance to much of this population, community health centers stand to benefit financially from Obamacare.

According to a June 2012 press release, the Department of Health and Human Services considers “community health center” expansion a key component for success in Obamacare.

Repeated emails and phone calls to Ms. Wells were left unreturned. An HCHC spokesperson declined to comment for this report.

Update: An earlier version of this article described Wells’ job title simply as “navigator.” In fact, her technical title is “outreach and enrollment assister,” a job with the same responsibilities as a navigator but a different titular designation within the bureaucracy.

Update 10/17: In a statement sent to The Daily Caller Thursday, HCHC wrote that “[a]llegations that Ms. Wells owes State income taxes appear completely unsubstantiated. The Kansas Department of Revenue has no record of tax delinquency for Ms. Wells.” However, a background check report produced by People Smart shows a state tax warrant for $1746 filed 11/15/2010 under Wells’ name.

An HCHC spokeswoman did not clarify the discrepancy or whether the debt had been resolved.

Additionally, the HCHC statement confirmed that “[a] bench warrant for an unpaid medical debt was on record but Ms. Wells, unaware of the warrant until just days ago, has worked with the courts to satisfy the warrant. This warrant is no longer active.”