Pressed to answer questions on health navigators, Pa. group says U.S. agency will help

    Organizations that have received federal grant money to help spread the word about Obamacare are receiving lengthy questionnaires from Republicans in Washington, with an answer expected by Sept. 13.

    Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently sent out letters with a list of questions relating to the training and supervision of “navigators,” the people who will help the uninsured sign up for insurance. Organizations are supposed to detail exactly how they will spend the grant money they have received, and how they will ensure the safety of people’s personal data.

    Resources for Human Development in Philadelphia received nearly a million dollars to hire navigators. Organization staff members say they did get a letter but that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has offered to step in and answer the questions for them.

    “We are happy to cooperate in any way. At this time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is responding to the Committee’s requests,” said Bob Fishman, CEO of Resources for Human Development, in a written statement.

    Several other organizations contacted for this report declined to respond to how the letters from Washington are affecting their work in hiring navigators.

    U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the letters were a clear effort by Republicans to undermine the implementation of the health-care law.

    “They haven’t even let these organization provide the service, so how could they have done anything wrong when they haven’t even started doing it?” said Pallone. “Their notion is, ‘We have to have oversight, we have to make sure they are doing the right thing.’ You don’t do that before they even start — you usually do that when there has been a history of abuse.”

    Energy and Commerce Committee spokeswoman Noelle Clemente said in a statement that the questionnaire was an effort to protect taxpayer dollars and people’s medical information.

    “This particular program is now $13 million over budget, ballooning 25 percent before it even started. Despite repeated concerns voiced by House Republicans about inadequate training, [the Department of Health and Humans Services] decided to proceed with the program before even finalizing what that training would be. There is no reason basic questions cannot or should not be answered,” according to the statement.

    Representatives from The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to be interviewed for this report, but sent a statement from a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services.

    “This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years,” it said.

    Five organizations serving Pennsylvania received more than $2.5 million to train and hire navigators. Five organizations serving New Jersey received close to $2 million. One organization received a $500,000 grant for the navigator program in Delaware.

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