[DALLASNEWS] Four Texas congressmen took aim Monday at the federally paid navigators who are helping Texans access insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
Their criticism came during an unusual "field hearing" by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The hearing focused on required navigator training and the lack of background checks and fingerprinting for those on the job.
"There are many problems with the Affordable Care Act, but I don't think we ever expected it would be this bad," said committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
The committee's other member at the hearing, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, called North Texas "ground zero" for navigator problems.
He and Issa were joined by three noncommittee members, all Republicans, who spoke against President Barack Obama
Republicans can come along for the ride, but they've got to sit in the back...
's signature law.
"This is one of a series of field hearings by Congressman Issa investigating the shortcomings of Obamacare," Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, told nearly 200 people at the Eisemann Center.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, and Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, were the other two Texans speaking against the new law.
Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, another noncommittee member, spoke in favor of the law. He urged the gathering to focus on the Texans who remain uncovered because state leaders decided not to expand Medicaid.
But the hearing focused on navigators and an undercover video that purported to show several North Texas women urging an insurance applicant to lie. They were training as navigators in Irving.
As proof, the committee played a video clip from a Fox News report. It showed two women telling an applicant that he should hide his extra income and the fact that he was a smoker. Such lies would lower his insurance premiums, they said.
Dr. Randy Farris, regional administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified that his agency took the video seriously. The agency oversees the new law's rollout.
"CMS took immediate action to decertify the navigators and issue a detailed corrective-action plan," he said.
The employees were subsequently suspended. Farris declined to specify whether they were fired.
The Urban League of Greater Dallas employed the two women. The group beefed up navigator training to assure they follow the law, Farris said. His agency promised to make unannounced visits to observe the agency's work.
The Republican congressmen did not sound appeased. They described wider potential for problems, given the number of agencies providing navigators.
The federal government is paying nearly $11 million to eight community organizations that supervise navigators, said Farris. The agencies have good standing and no reason to flout the law, he said.
Issa said the potential for navigator abuse was so great that Texas insurance regulators should take further action. He urged the state to move forward with rules that would prevent identity theft and other criminal behavior.