Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Supporters of the U.S. health-care overhaul are criticizing a House panel’s scrutiny of nonprofit groups set to help enroll people in new insurance plans, saying it’s part of a Republican effort to impede the law.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter Aug. 29 to 51 organizations in 11 states that have been named “navigators” for the health-care law, demanding documents and meetings to account for $67 million in federal grants awarded Aug. 15, said Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who is the panel’s top Democrat. The groups were given a Sept. 13 deadline to respond.
The navigators were created to assist people who don’t have health insurance sign up for coverage when new government-run marketplaces, called exchanges, open Oct. 1. About half the 50 million uninsured people in the U.S. are expected to gain health plans under the law. Republicans in the House have voted more than three dozen time to repeal or defund the measure.
“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,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said yesterday in an e-mail.
Navigators face other obstacles. Republican legislators in at least a dozen states have enacted laws to regulate navigators, in some cases ordering training beyond federal requirements and levying fees for certification.
House Republicans asked the navigator groups to provide a written description of how they’ll use the grants, and details of any communications with the Obama administration or with Enroll America, a Washington nonprofit that is working with the administration to promote the law. The panel members also asked for details of any correspondence with insurance companies that will sell plans through the exchanges.
The Republicans, led by committee chairman, Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, said they opened the investigation “in order to better understand the work you will perform as a navigator and the consumer protections that will be in place before open enrollment begins” for the health law.
The panel’s review was reported earlier by Kaiser Health News and Bloomberg BNA. Alexa Marrero and Noelle Clemente, spokeswomen for the committee, didn’t respond to an e-mail requesting the letter and a response to the criticism.
Many of the navigator groups are small nonprofit organizations that “do not have the capacity” to respond to the panel’s request, said Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a Washington consumer advocacy group that created Enroll America.
“There is no doubt that this unreasonable request for burdensome paperwork is exclusively motivated to harass community organizations that stand ready to help uninsured families gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act,” he said in an e-mail.
--Editors: Andrew Pollack, Michael Hytha