By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va.— The people receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants to handle Virginians’ personal information and help them sign up for Obamacare could — theoretically — have criminal backgrounds and deceive Virginians without anyone knowing.
Republican Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas has filed a bill to prevent that.
Just as troubling as the botched rollout of Obamacare — or perhaps more so — are stories of some of the ethically challenged navigators around the country getting millions in taxpayer dollars to help Americans chart the choppy waters of Healthcare.gov.
The Texas communications director for Enroll America, Chris Tarango, resigned after a video expose showed him conspiring to disclose private data to help a political action committee.
In Kansas, navigator Rosilyn Wells caused a firestorm when word broke she had a warrant out for her arrest and a checkered financial past.
A new report from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reveals that, since Obamacare launched Oct. 1, the navigator program has suffered from consistently poor management, leading to widespread chaos.
And the list goes on.
But Virginia’s outspoken Marshall has filed a bill requiring anyone assisting in the navigating process in the Old Dominion to be licensed by Virginia’s State Corporation Commission. To become a candidate for licensure, a person must complete a training program, pass an exam and submit a criminal history.
Under the proposed law, the SCC has the authority to revoke or simply not issue a navigator license to someone who is a registered sex offender or has been convicted of a felony for fraud, misuse of funds or misuse of information.
Any navigator who encourages a person signing up for insurance to submit false statements, shares that person’s personal information with a political organization for voter registration purposes or shares a person’s Social Security number commits a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The law applies to “ any navigator, any navigator’s sub-grantee or partner organization, certain of their employees or volunteers, and any certified application counselor” who “provides advice, guidance, or other assistance with regard to health benefit plans under the provisions of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
“Everything in there I devised because of what I was reading about the operations of these so-called navigators,” Marshall told Watchdog.org.
Marshall said some navigators are using the program for “purely political” reasons.
“I have absolutely no trust in Obama. At all,” he said.
The federal government has given grants to two Virginia organizations to help people sign up for health insurance — the Virginia Poverty Law Center — $1,278,592 — and Advanced Patient Advocacy, LLC — $483,433.
The Virginia Poverty Law Center has failed to respond to Watchdog.org’s inquiry into how many people they’ve signed up.
Advanced Patient Advocacy’s Chief Marketing Officer Robert Napier said his national organization has helped complete applications for 200 Virginians since the health care rollout. APA has three sign-up approaches — going to hospitals directly and helping uninsured patients sign up for insurance; referring people at community fairs to APA offices so they can sign up; and assisting people through the APA website.
Napier said any additional state requirements on navigators won’t be an issue for APA, which was helping people sign up for insurance long before the Affordable Care Act became law, and is serving as a navigator outlet in four other states.
“That wouldn’t worry us at all,” Napier told Watchdog.org Friday. “Any requirements that were ever laid out by any of the individual states we clearly exceeded, because this has been our core business for over 13 years. We were very prepared as far as security and training.”
Marshall said he hopes his bill passes, but its success rides largely on which party controls the Virginia Senate, he said. Even if the bill passes both houses he doesn’t expect his bill to find favor with Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe.
“It depends on the outcome of the elections to replace (Ralph) Northam and (Mark) Herring,” he said. “Then, I’m sure Mr. McAuliffe can find some way to veto this.”
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, and can be reached at [email protected].