By Rebecca Shabad and Jonathan Easley - 12/16/13 12:35 PM EST
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee released documents on Monday saying that the ObamaCare “navigators” responsible for helping consumers enroll in the new law have made a series of errors and put sensitive consumer information at risk.
Documents released with the report said they have been giving enrollees misinformation, and have not done enough to keep secure consumers’ health information, Social Security numbers, yearly income and other tax information.
Some ObamaCare navigators, the report says, “encouraged consumers to commit tax fraud by underreporting income in order to qualify for ObamaCare’s health insurance subsidies.”
The report also says some navigators violated rules by mailing in consumers’ paper applications for them, which applicants had to do themselves.
The report is based on briefings the Oversight Committee conducted with top administration officials, including the director of the agency in charge of the navigator program, Gary Cohen.
Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said the navigators are no different from Medicare counselors, who she says have “operated effectively for years.”
She also argued that the navigator grants are only given to “trusted community organizations,” and that those who are hired must complete at least 20 hours of training on how to comply with privacy and security standards.
“We take any alleged impropriety seriously and take immediate action in cases where navigators have failed to live up to their responsibilities,” Peters told The Hill in an email. “This is just the latest attempt to try to prevent Americans from accessing the quality, affordable coverage available to them under the health care law.”
Ranking Oversight member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), released a statement Monday dismissing the report as "partisan and recycled" and urging the committee to focus on practical ObamaCare implementation measures.
"The focus of today’s field hearing is on a handful of people who everyone agrees have no place in the navigator program, instead of the much more significant problem that Texas has refused to expand its Medicaid program, which would help millions of residents in a state with the highest number of uninsured in the nation," Cummings said.
In a series of hearings on the bungled ObamaCare rollout, Republicans have focused on the navigators, who they say have not been sufficiently vetted for a job that requires they handle sensitive consumer information.
Navigators don’t have to undergo federal background checks, although HHS requires the contractors conduct their own applicant screenings.
The Issa report was released Monday in conjunction with a field hearing the committee is holding Monday in Dallas, Texas, called “ObamaCare implementation: Who are the Navigators?”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius fired at Issa before the hearing began, accusing him of trying to undermine the law.
"What opponents of the new law could not do legislatively, at the ballot box, or even by shutting down the federal government, they’re now trying to do through other means," she wrote in an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. "Case in point is Monday’s congressional hearing in Dallas, designed to stifle, intimidate and impugn the reputation of people who have been working hard to help their fellow Texans get covered."
Issa has publicly clashed with Democrats on the panel and the White House in recent weeks.
Issa announced Friday that an ObamaCare contractor would comply with a subpoena he issued, despite efforts by the Obama administration and some Democrats to keep the documents out of his hands.
The Obama administration and Cummings have called Issa’s credibility into question, saying he can’t be trusted with some of the documents he’s subpoenaed because he’s displayed a “reckless pattern” of leaking confidential information in a way that promotes “inaccurate” media coverage.
Issa disputes this notion.
“When we have released information on sensitive topics, we have exercised great care to ensure that there are not unintended consequences,” he said in response to a letter from Cummings. “Most often, these releases shed light on false and misleading public statements, whether they are made by the administration or others.”
Posted at 7:42 a.m. and updated at 12:35 p.m. and 3:07 p.m.