Why Are Conservatives Hating On Obama’s Navigators?

Obamacare includes a program that employs people to help connect hard-to-reach, uninsured citizens to healthcare resources. What's wrong with that?

By Brentin Mock Jan 14, 2014

Conservatives have been acting messy about an Affordable Care Act program that trains local residents to find uninsured people in their communities and connect them with ACA resources. The program, called "Champions for Coverage," has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the NAACP to train and hire so-called navigators who are tasked primarily with helping people of very little income sign up for Medicaid and other ACA benefits. There are over 100 organizations spread across most of the states with this program.

Sounds innocent, right? But since it was launched in August, Republicans at both the state and federal level have tried to peg it as some stealth conspiracy that violates people’s privacy by collecting personal information on potential enrollees.

News reports swirled over the weekend about how the state insurance regulator in Texas is proposing strict rules on the navigator program that would add another 40 hours of trainings to the 20 to 30 hours already mandatory, would cause trainees to have to pay at least $800 to sign up for the work, and would also subject them to a criminal background check and fingerprinting process. This is a far more onerous security check than imposed on a similar navigator program in Texas, but for Medicare (retirees) benefits.

In November, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio proposed legislation that would require a credit check on top of a criminal background check for navigator applicants. And in December, Rep. Darrel Issa, chairman of the investigative House oversight committee, held a hearing in Dallas that fueled more conspiracy theories around the navigators. All that for a job that’s about just going out to help get people insured?

As navigators sign people up for Obamacare, they may enter people’s information into the Healthcare.gov portal, when they’re not getting them on the phone with a government representative through the ACA hotline. But the navigators don’t keep people’s personal information on file themselves, as Center for Public Policy Priorities senior policy analyst Stacey Pogue explained to the San Antonio Express-News. 

In an op-ed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius wrote that those who have opposed Obamacare from the beginning are now trying to "stifle, intimidate and impugn" the navigator program. Among the navigators are organizations like the American Medical Association and the National Partnership for Women and Families. It’d be interesting to see if conservatives would be attacking the program the same if it wasn’t aiding civil rights organizations like the NAACP.