- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2014

The Obama administration said Monday it will dole out $60 million in “navigator” grants to groups charged with offering in-person help to people who want to sign up for health coverage under Obamacare.

Ninety organizations will share the funding in the three dozen states that rely on the federally run exchange known as HealthCare.gov.

It is the second time that HHS has released a block of funding to nonprofits, universities and other groups that want to help people figure out if they qualify for private healths plans or Medicaid through the new health exchanges.

In August of last year, the administration unveiled $67 million in grants — $13 million more than initially projected — to more than 100 organizations to help people understand their options during Obamacare’s first round of sign-ups.

The administration justified the grants by citing research that found navigators and other assisters helped more than 10 million Americans get covered in exchange plans, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program during the first open-enrollment period.

An array of Hispanic advocacy groups told The Washington Times last month that in-person help was vital to overcoming language barriers and a lack of health care literacy among some in the demographic.

“In-person assisters have an impact on the lives of so many Americans, helping individuals and families across the country access quality, affordable health coverage,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said. “We are committed to helping Americans get covered and stay covered with in-person assistance in their own communities.”

Republicans and Obamacare opponents say the navigator programs are ripe for fraud and abuse, because an army of in-person helpers could gain access to enrollees’ personal data.

“It continues to be of great concern to me that the Administration is funneling taxpayer dollars to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider,” said Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican and vocal Obamacare critic. “Additionally, these Obamacare Navigators will have little training, but will be tasked with handling Americans’ most sensitive personal information — giving Americans even more reason to be concerned about risks from fraud and identity theft due to Obamacare.”

In its announcement, HHS said grantees must be trained and comply with security and privacy standards to make sure they do not exploit a consumers’ personally identifiable information, “as was the case last year.”

“In no case will Navigators obtain a consumer’s [personal information] without the consumer’s consent,” the agency said.

The administration also announced a new set of rules Monday based on the first year of sign-ups.

Navigator groups must maintain a physical presence in the area they serve, so consumers know where to go for face-to-face help, and grantees must now submit weekly progress reports to HHS in addition to quarterly and annual reporting.

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