(Updates with comments from committee spokeswoman in seventh paragraph.)
Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration is pushing back against a Republican investigation of the nonprofit groups enlisted to help people navigate their Affordable Care Act options, saying the inquiry may impede the law’s implementation.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote last month to 51 “navigator” groups, demanding documents and meetings to account for $67 million in federal grants. Information about the program has already been provided, the Health and Human Services Department said today in a letter questioning the motivations behind the probe.
“We are concerned about the timing of your inquiry given its potential to interfere with the navigators’ ability to carry out their crucial efforts in assisting Americans who lack health insurance,” Jim Esquea, the assistant secretary for legislation at HHS, wrote in the letter obtained by Bloomberg News.
Republicans, none of whom voted for passage of the 2010 law, have fought to derail it. The law is expected to expand medical coverage to at least half of the estimated 50 million uninsured Americans. The navigators are considered crucial to the Obama administration’s effort to enroll at least 7 million of those people in health plans through online marketplaces scheduled to open Oct. 1.
The navigators were given a Sept. 13 deadline to respond to the committee’s letters. Esquea’s five-page response answers questions the Republicans posed to the groups. The administration also sent copies of the grant applications.
“We trust that our response fully addresses your questions about the navigator program and the guidelines and controls in place to monitor the work of the awardees,” Esquea said.
The lawmakers “have had positive and productive conversations with navigators in response to our request, and look forward to continuing to do so in the coming days,” Noelle Clemente, a committee spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “Understanding how taxpayer dollars will be used to implement the health-care law is of the utmost important to our members as well as the American people.”
Navigator groups are supposed to assist people who don’t have health insurance sign up for coverage when the new government-run exchanges open Oct. 1 for health plans that take effect Jan. 1.
--Editors: Andrew Pollack, Angela Zimm