Local Politics

Ellmers defends oversight of groups helping implement health law

Posted September 9, 2013 6:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 10, 2013 3:16 p.m. EDT

Rep. Renee Ellmers represents North Carolina's 2nd Congressional district.

— Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers is catching heat over a House committee investigation into "navigator" organizations tasked with helping people sign up for health care coverage in a new online marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, which opens Oct. 1.

Ellmers and others on the Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the organizations, which receive federal grant money, asking them to produce detailed documentation of how the grants will be spent.

"This investigation is consistent with our thoughtful oversight of this law," Ellmers said Monday. "It is our job to protect taxpayer dollars."

Several state and national groups have charged that the request is a blatant attempt to intimidate navigator groups out of helping people understand the new health care provisions.

Nonprofit Protect Your Care NC had harsh words for Ellmers, calling her moves "brazen and disgusting."

"If Congresswoman Ellmers thinks groups like the Epilepsy Foundation or the Children’s Hospital Medical Center are deserving of the highest levels of scrutiny, she’s out of her mind," said Candice Davies, state director of Protect Your Care NC. "What kind of politician would harass and intimidate a food bank for trying to help people who are seeking out health coverage? The answer is a politician that has lost all sense of what it is to be a public servant, a politician so bent on keeping people uninsured that they don’t care if innocent people get hurt in the process."

Some groups also say turning over thousands of documents to comply with the committee's request would overwhelm the resources of the nonprofit navigators.

Ellmers, however, maintains that the navigator program is already $13 million over budget. She said the House committee is also concerned about ensuring that people's personal medical information collected by the groups is protected.

"I was proud to join my colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter requesting information regarding the Department of Health and Human Services' announcement that 105 groups will split $67 million in taxpayer funds to help people 'navigate' the new Obamacare health insurance exchanges," Ellmers said in a statement. "This letter was sent to recipients of these grants requesting basic information about how they will spend taxpayer money. The purpose of this request is to better understand the work these recipients will perform as 'Navigators' and the consumer protections that will be in place, as the navigators will be obtaining sensitive medical and financial information from enrollees.

"The groups should already have the information we are requesting. I am concerned however when I see reports, such as the Kaiser story last week, that quotes an Ohio group saying that 'We weren't required to provide position papers, salary ranges, privacy policies or procedures. You don’t do that until you know that you got the award,'" Ellmers continued. "This is startling. I would also point out that this is a program that is already $13 million (25 percent) over budget, before its even been implemented. This investigation is consistent with our thoughtful oversight of this law. It is our job to protect taxpayer dollars and Americans’ sensitive personal medical information, particularly as this massive law is implemented and new programs, like this one, are being created."