As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies about the rocky implementation of Obamacare before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, she’ll be speaking to Republicans members who have sought to prevent uninsured Americans from obtaining coverage outside of the troubled HealthCare.gov.
In light of the website glitches and delays, administration officials have urged Americans seeking coverage to call a call center, visit a navigator or a community health center to sign up for coverage in person.
But last month, fifteen Republican members of the Committee, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), requested detailed responses and thousands of pages of documents from approximately 60 percent of the so-called “Navigator” organizations — more than 100 hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups and local food banks — tasked with helping uninsured people connect to coverage. The lawmakers gave the groups just two weeks to provide detailed written descriptions of their employees and activities, interactions with the Department of Health and Human Services, and “all documentation and communication related to your grant.”
The inquiry — which came just as the groups were preparing for open enrollment — led at least two groups to give back their federal grants and close up shop. “You know, we’re relatively small,” a spokesperson for Cardon Outreach, an organization that wanted to help people enroll in Medicaid, said. “And the people that would be involved in that response are high-level executives whose time is extremely valuable. Because we’re a small organization, we have a lot on our plates.”
Several Republicans on the Committee cheered the news. “If this ended up resulting in a delay, I wouldn’t be unhappy about it,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) said. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) added that his office wouldn’t help constituents enroll in Obamacare. “Our position is, if you want to sign up, you got to call HHS,” he said. “So we will say, ‘Call [HHS Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius’ office if you want to figure that out.’ ”
The effort is just the latest attempt by Republicans to undermine enrollment. Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee have previously sent letters seeking information from entities tasked with educating the public about the law, opened investigations into public relations companies that had been contracted to promote the law on popular television shows, and warned the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) against encouraging enrollment in the law.
The National Journal’s Alex Seitz-Wald adds that “Republican legislatures and officials in at least 17 states across the country have thrown up all manner of bureaucratic roadblocks in front of the program.”