Consumer Protections? Depends on Who Is Knocking.

October 4, 2013

Federally Funded Navigators Advised Against Going Door-to-Door to Enroll – Same Rules Do Not Apply to Non-Federally Funded Groups

As Americans all across the country struggled with the health law’s website errors and glitches, on Tuesday, Fox News reported that some residents in Florida received a knock on their door from the United Way and Enroll America, groups identifying themselves as Navigators.

As the committee recently noted, “Such door-to-door outreach has previously been described as inappropriate, which is probably why a top administration official denied that such activity would occur.”  Even the HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight Director, Mr. Gary Cohen, acknowledged this concern when he testified before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on September 19, 2013. Cohen assured the subcommittee members that, “We will be issuing instructions to Navigators that they should not be going door-to-door.” After a series of delays that cut nearly in half the necessary training time for Navigator groups, the administration finally issued that guidance on September 20. As it turns out, though, these guidelines only apply to the 105 organizations that received federal funding. Other organizations not receiving federal Navigator grants, like Enroll America and the United Way group in Florida featured by Fox News, do not have to follow those rules and are free to engage in door-to-door activities. Sounds bound to confound consumers – or worse.

A report issued by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee highlights a September 10 Washington Post story finding, “In New York and Florida, meanwhile, scammers have been traveling door-to-door, asking whether individuals currently have health insurance. If not, some individuals have reportedly been threatened with prison time if they do not sign up for coverage on the spot, according to the [Coalition Against Insurance Fraud].”

Cue the confusion. With a patchwork of rules and belated guidance from HHS, how are consumers supposed to know whether the people knocking on their door to help them with enrollment are who they say they are? The 105 groups across the country who received Navigator grants have been advised by the administration not to go door-to-door to talk with Americans about their personal health and financial information. But any other group is free to pound the pavement collecting information and enrolling folks in the health care law with no guidance from the administration, and no guarantee of consumer protection. This type of confusion is precisely why the committee remains committed to thoughtful oversight.

 

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