Navigators Should Not Let Politics Thwart Their Important Work

Yet another attempt in a very long line of efforts to delay or derail the health care law came in the waning hours of summer after many people had already checked out for the Labor Day weekend. About half of the 104 organizations that were awarded federal navigator grants received an official demand from ranking majority members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to produce reams of paper documents associated with their grants, as well as all related communication with state and federal officials, and even Enroll America. Many recipients didn’t even see the request until after their return from the long weekend on September 3rd, giving them a scant 10 days to produce voluminous documentation just at a time when gearing up for open enrollment should be at the top of their priority list.

Why does there continue to be such controversy over the role of navigators and other assisters as we expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans? The truth is that these efforts are NOT about protecting consumers; they are about politics, pure and simple.

Navigator-type programs are a tried-and-true concept. In Medicare, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) has been in place assisting seniors for more than two decades. And community partners who assist with outreach and the application process have been a key aspect of our nation’s success in covering children. All without controversy or any of the problems that ACA opponents are using to erect barriers to the important role navigators will play in connecting consumers to the ACA’s expanded coverage options.

The fact is consumers need navigators. Applying for means-tested public benefits isn’t as simple as filling out a form. And while there are many positive changes coming with new high performing eligibility and enrollment systems, and modernized requirements to use electronic data to cut red tape in verifying eligibility, it will be a while before things are running smoothly. And consumers deserve formal programs – like those managing navigators and certified application counselors – to provide proper training and oversight ensuring that assisters are well prepared to do their jobs.

The reaction to the latest attempts to thwart navigators has been strong, describing this action as “shocking,” “offensive,” “a congressional overreach,” and “a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate (navigator) groups.” In my opinion, it’s just plain wrong to play politics with families’ health care.

My hats are off to the stalwart organizations that are willing to serve as navigators. They once again are caught in the crossfire of politics over the health care law. I hope this latest example of trying to derail the ACA does not deter them from their important work ahead.

[Editor’s Note:  Since this blog was posted, HHS responded to the Energy and Commerce Committee request.]

Tricia Brooks
Tricia Brooks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Children and Families

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