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Sebelius: Issa, GOP impugning Obamacare “navigators”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and two Republican lawmakers exchanged a war of words ahead of a congressional hearing in Dallas Monday that will examine the Obamacare “navigators,” employees who are trained to help Americans understand and select their new insurance options under the law.

After reports of foul play by navigators in the area – one trainee at the Urban League of Greater Dallas allegedly encouraged an applicant to lie about his income on the application – the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee scheduled a hearing in Richardson, Texas to investigate the program.

“While President Barack Obama and other allies of Obamacare continue to publicly tout the law, they have done too little to address serious problems that come with it,” committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, wrote in an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. “This hearing, one of a series of hearings investigating the flawed implementation of Obamacare, strives to get the answers that the American people deserve about Obamacare’s navigator program.”

Issa and Sessions allege the program has three fundamental flaws: there is no screening to ensure convicted felons, particularly those involved in identify theft or fraud, aren’t hired, and no rule barring them from the position even though it requires the possibility of handling personal information; the training is insufficient; and the program lacks proper federal oversight.

“Proper consumer privacy protection guidelines should be a priority for this administration, particularly in a program like Obamacare that requires Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine for noncompliance,” they wrote.

Sebelius has her own op-ed in the same paper defending the program and charging that the hearing is designed to “stifle, intimidate and impugn the reputation of people who have been working hard to help their fellow Texans get covered.”

“Millions of Texans don’t have the security of health coverage. In fact, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the nation. Yet there are some who will seemingly stop at nothing to deter Texans — and those who assist them — from obtaining coverage or even learning about their new options under the Affordable Care Act,” Sebelius wrote. “Just who are these people working to assist their fellow Texans? Those I’ve met are dedicated, civic-minded Americans who have opened their hearts to their neighbors, because they want to help.”

She says the navigators must complete at least 20 hours of training that includes privacy protection and security, pass a “rigorous exam,” demonstrate they have no conflicts of interest, and participate in weekly training sessions. Issa and Sessions say that only five to 20 hours of training are required and calls the exam a “quiz they can take as many times as needed.”

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