September 6, 2013

For all their whining and crying about abuse of power by the IRS, a powerful Republican-dominated House committee shows us how it's really done. Last week, they insinuated that recipients of government grants are somehow guilty of something -- merely because they've received that grant. And of course, it has to do with obstructing Obamacare.

One of the ways the administration is working to get the word out about the Affordable Care Act enrollment process is via "navigators." Navigators are people hired to assist individuals with the process of enrollment and selection of the right insurance. Simply put, navigators are there to make it easier for people to understand and enroll. Pretty benign, right?

Rather than hiring people directly, the government gives grants to nonprofits and health-based organizations to be navigators on their behalf. As grants are announced, they're published so that everyone knows exactly who is receiving a grant and for what purpose.

Not if you're a Republican. Last week, our conservative overlords issued a nasty letter to navigators intended to intimidate and distract them. TPM:

In a letter dated Aug, 29, 2013, on [House Energy and Commerce] committee letterhead, 15 Republicans demand documents and responses to questions about Navigator organizations, their workers, their processes of monitoring and supervising employees, their efforts to “safeguard an individual’s personal and medicinal information,” whether or not they’ve communicated with a health insurer or provider, and “all documentation and communications related to your Navigator grant.”

The letter, obtained by TPM, gives the Navigators a Sept. 13 deadline to submit the answers and documents. In addition to Upton, the letter is signed by oversight subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and health subcommittee Chairman Joseph Pitts (R-PA), among others. (See the rest of the signatories below.)

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, fired back Friday afternoon in a strongly worded letter to Upton, accusing him of abusing his authority to advance the GOP’s “fishing expeditions” against Obamacare.

“There is no legitimate predicate for these letters and no evidence of any malfeasance from any of the organizations,” he wrote. “It is an abuse of your oversight authority to launch groundless investigations into civic organizations that are trying to make health reform a success. … I urge you to reconsider these misguided investigations.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human services called the House GOP investigation “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.”

Thursday, the navigators responded in interviews with Kaiser News:

"I find the letter quite offensive," says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which received a $1.9 million grant. "It is shocking. It is absolutely shocking."

The organizations, all in states where the federal government will be setting up insurance marketplaces, are already under a difficult time crunch, with just six weeks from the time they received the grants to hire, train and prepare outreach work forces.

"Was this an attempt by members of the committee to basically stop and slow down the navigator process?" Hamler-Fugitt says. "We’re going to stop now and pull together voluminous documents to provide back to the committee?"

Some of those documents don't yet exist, she says. "We weren't required to provide position papers, salary ranges, privacy policies or procedures. You don’t do that until you know that you got the award."

The navigators know, as does anyone observing, that the letter from this committee was intended to intimidate, distract, and delay them from doing the job they just received a grant to do. The letter they sent was worse than the worst of the IRS information request letters, because it insinuated they were doing something wrong before they've done anything at all.

But then abuses of power are totally fine in some circumstances -- IOKIYAR.

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