As Republicans come to terms with the futility of their incessant efforts to repeal, defund, undermine and otherwise trash Obamacare, they're turning to a new last-ditch strategy: make it harder for people who desperately need health care to get it under the new law. The tactic du jour is attacking "navigators," the nonprofit organizations charged with helping millions of consumers sign up for insurance coverage or public benefits beginning Oct. 1.
The GOP logic is simple: The harder they make it for navigators to do their jobs, the harder it will be for people to get life-saving health coverage provided by Obamacare. For many, it would be the first time in their lives they have had health insurance.
Republican governors in 21 states are already denying more than 5 million people benefits by refusing to take billions in federal funds to fully participate in the ACA's expansion of Medicaid. Navigator sabotage is a way for the Obamacare haters to pile on.
The Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee devised a way to interfere with the work of 51 organizations that will serve as navigators in 11 states. On Aug. 29, the committee sent a harassing letter demanding that non-profit groups like the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks produce reams of paperwork about their operations and schedule a "briefing" of the committee by Sept. 13. Instead of spending their time getting ready for the beginning of enrollment in less than a month, navigator groups must now waste precious days and hours gathering information and traveling to Washington, D.C., as targets of bogus, last-minute harassment.
This is sabotage and a politically motivated abuse of power.
In case there was any doubt about the partisan nature of this sham probe, the committee is requiring that each group document its contacts with Enroll America, a nonpartisan organization working to educate consumers about how to sign up for coverage. The Republicans are obsessed with attacking Enroll America because it's a way to hurt enrollment efforts and President Obama at the same time. Republicans believe it's a high crime that the private non-profit that supports the president's law includes people on its staff who support the president.
Georgia's Insurance Commissioner and Obamacare vandal Ralph Hudgens also contributed to the GOP's sabotage campaign. He cooked up a new state law that essentially requires navigators to be certified as full-fledged licensed insurance agents, which the Affordable Care Act (ACA) explicitly prohibits. Forcing navigators to jump through additional and unlawful hoops will make it harder for the 1.9 million people without health insurance in Georgia to sign up for coverage, and may allow Georgia to retain the distinction of having the fifth highest percentage of uninsured people in the nation. As Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported, Hudgens is so proud of his devious act of navigator sabotage that he boasted about it in a speech to fellow Republicans (which you can view here):
"Let me tell you what we're doing (about ObamaCare)," Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans in Floyd County earlier this month: "Everything in our power to be an obstructionist."
After pausing to let applause roll over him, a grinning Hudgens went on to give an example of that obstructionist behavior, this one involving so-called "navigators" who are being hired to guide customers through the process of buying health insurance on marketplaces, or exchanges, set up under the federal program.
"We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance," Hudgens said. "The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we'll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we're going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write 'navigator test' on it.
Hudgens is hardly alone. In states such as Missouri, for example, laws have been passed to make it illegal for public employees to help people sign up.
These Republican anti-Obamacare tactics go beyond policy opposition or even obstruction of the law. They are dirty tricks to deny insurance to individuals with names and families and addresses and personal experiences and real medical needs. These are dirty tricks to deny compensation to hospitals that will be providing care to uninsured people who show up in the emergency room with preventable illnesses because they have no place else to go.
Next month, Americans from coast to coast will begin signing up for health benefits through insurance marketplaces offering a range of affordable private health plans. Lower-income Americans will enroll for expanded Medicaid benefits. About 25 million people will never again have to worry about being bankrupted by medical bills or being excluded from coverage because they were sick or hurt or beaten or addicted at some point in their lives.
The ACA is already halting skyrocketing health costs, saving seniors money on prescription drugs, providing preventive care without co-pays, raising the quality of care, and eliminating the worst insurance company abuses, like dropping people, denying care and charging higher premiums because of age, gender and pre-existing health conditions.
Thanks to Obamacare, Americans no longer have to worry about getting the health care they need. They only have to worry about the Republicans taking it away.
This blog was also published at the Health Care for America Now blog.