Of all of the things that conservatives have tried to do to undermine the Affordable Care Act – the countless repeal votes by House Republicans, the rumor-mongering about “death panels,” trumpeting and inflating stories of businesses cutting employees and work hours to evade compliance with the law – this is arguably the most heinous: Obstructing the people who give citizens factual information about the health insurance coverage the law entitles them to have.
“On October 1, this law comes online, so what are they doing now? They are attacking folks who are helping people sign up for the law,” says Ethan Rome, the executive director of Health Care for America Now!, in an interview with OurFuture.org. “They are doing everything they can to sabotage the enrollment.”
The people being targeted are called health care “navigators,” positions created by the law to literally help people navigate through the new health care exchanges and through the expansions in Medicaid authorized by the law. The navigators usually work for local nonprofit organizations (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website provides this list). Navigators are trained to be knowledgable about the health care options available under the Affordable Care Act and to comply with laws regarding sensitive medical information they may encounter. But state-level conservative opponents of the law are trying everything from whipped up fears about privacy to, in Georgia, trying to insist that navigators must meet the same certification standards as insurance salesmen.
What’s worse, House Republicans sent letters like this one last week to 51 navigator organizations in 11 states demanding that they come to Washington for a “briefing” by September 13 and to submit reams of paperwork, including “all documentation and communications related to your Navigator grant.”
“I can’t think of a more plain example of an abuse of power,” Rome says in the interview. “It’s a sham investigation. It’s done at a time that is intended to interfere with the ability of these groups to execute the law.”
This is reminiscent of the efforts by conservative segregationists in the South to block federal integration efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. The people who are being hurt are the millions of uninsured and underinsured people who stand to benefit from Obamacare.
Conservatives know that if Obamacare is allowed to work, their ideological house of cards collapses. Their last-ditch response is massive resistance. That demands our own massive response to support the navigators and move out of the way the obstructions that stand between people and the health care benefits they need.