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Obama Administration Slashes Obamacare 'Navigator' Training Requirements

GOP congresswoman: "Appears irresponsible."

5:36 PM, Aug 7, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The problems keep stacking up for the partial implementation of Obamacare on October 1. The Wall Street Journal reports this week that the Department of Health and Human Services has cut back on the number of training hours required for the Obamacare "navigators," federal workers who under the health care law are tasked with helping consumers purchase insurance through the state exchanges. Here's the Journal:

Grants to hire and train the workers aren't expected to be released for another two weeks for the 34 states where the federal government is running all or part of the marketplaces, which will offer insurance to those who don't get it on the job or from Medicare or Medicaid. That leaves just 32 business days to hire and train thousands of helpers in these states.

"It's definitely a tight timeline, and there's a lot to do before Oct. 1," said Jen Bersdale, executive director of Missouri Healthcare for All, a nonprofit advocacy group helping coordinate outreach activities in the state. "I imagine some people will be working overtime to do it."

People will be able to sign up for coverage on a website or through a call center. The navigators will reach out to the uninsured and help people understand the rules and paperwork. The federal funding for the navigators is expected to be funneled mainly through nonprofit health groups, which will employ the helpers.

The navigator issue is one of many bedeviling federal and state officials working to launch the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's health law this fall. Delays in issuing some rules and implementing the law have officials scrambling to get ready for October.

The news prompted Republican congresswoman Diane Black of Tennessee to write a letter to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting Sebelius explain the cutback.

“Given that federally funded Navigators will soon interact with the public to articulate the complexities of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reducing training requirements by 33 percent appears irresponsible," writes Black, a registered nurse. “As the law stipulates, Navigators are the individuals designated to communicate the law to the public, provide education on the health plans, and enroll Americans onto the government-run health care Exchanges. Given this daunting responsibility, taking time to ensure that Navigators are thoroughly trained is fundamental. Proper training of staff is the cornerstone of ensuring any program will be effective. In the healthcare sector, training hours are an integral component to readiness, effectiveness, quality, and care."

Read the Black's letter here.

Critics of Obamacare's navigator provision have also argued the $54 million program does not require the extensive background checks of its workers required of other federal employees who deal with sensitive taxpayer information. And in recent days, reports have emerged of other delays or hold-ups to the October 1 roll-out of Obamacare's health insurance exchanges. For instance, the data security tools of the online exchange system are reportedly behind schedule. And states all over the country are seeing reports that health insurance premiums are skyrocketing in anticipation of the exchanges.

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