Before heading out on summer recess last week, one Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives made it clear that she has her sights set on defunding the navigator program of the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R – Wash.), a member of the Republican-controlled House’s leadership who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, filed two bills last week that are the first to target the navigator and in-person assister programs, according to Ryan Young, senior director for federal government affairs at Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America or the Big “I.”
“This is an issue that’s been percolating on Capitol Hill for the last few months, there was a lot of interest from the viewpoint of consumer protection,” Young says. “The [navigator] program is set up for people with no background in health care to be advising on all these major decisions that impact your financial livelihood.”
H.R. 2980 seeks to defund the navigator program until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirms that those certified across states of all exchange types — federal , state-run or partnership — have “certified” that they won’t provide advice or take compensation that’s “dependent on whether a person enrolls in or purchases a health plan,” amongst other things. H.R. 2951 says that navigator grants can’t be awarded until changes are made to the administration’s plan to allow self-reporting on income that paves the way to subsidies being granted on the exchanges in 2014.
“We’d love to see a repeal, but piecemeal legislation like this will really go a long way to fix our concerns,” Young says about the potential for Republicans to in the House to use budget discussions to repeal the ACA when they return in September. “Right now, we take things one at a time, the bills have been filed and we’re going to work to build up co-sponsors now.”
"We don’t know if navigators have to have a high school diploma, have a background check," says John Greene, vice president of congressional affairs at the National Association of Health Underwriters. "They’re handling health information covered by HIPAA and other federal laws and they’re not licensed. It’s not like buying a pair of shoes on the internet ... you’re stuck for the year."
Greene says a big question from NAHU and some Republicans on Capitol Hill is whether navigators will be trained on anything about the plans other than price differentiators. In June a group of Republican senators led by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also expressing concerns about consumer protection with the navigator program. They wrote: "The unreasonably low standard for becoming a navigator not only undermines the state’s ability to ensure consumers are protected but raises questions about the appropriate use of federal resources and the protection of highly sensitive consumer information.”
While there is some support from the Senate side, IIABA's Young says ACA laws are “always going to be a steeper hill to climb in the Democratic Senate … we’re going to keep working on it.”
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