NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE www.nationalreview.com
November 11, 2013 8:00 PM
The Truth about Navigators
James O’Keefe reveals corruption at the heart of the president’s signature program.
By John Fund
James O’Keefe, the guerrilla videographer who helped bring down ACORN (the “community organizing” group that Barack Obama worked for as a lawyer and trainer) and got NPR’s president fired, is back.
This time, his undercover investigators focused on Obamacare’s “navigators,” the nearly 50,000 people who, in the words of the Department of Health and Human Services, “will serve as an in-person resource for Americans who want additional assistance in shopping for and enrolling in plans” on the Obamacare exchanges (at least when they’re finally working). The total value of grants doled out for nonprofits and community organizations to hire navigators has topped $67 million nationwide, and some of the money is going to a group run by ACORN’s highly controversial founder.
The events of O’Keefe’s video of a Texas navigator site run by the National Urban League are a familiar sight to viewers of his past efforts exposing Medicaid and voter fraud. Government-paid workers supposedly trained to uphold the law advise clients on how to lie on government forms, evade legal requirements, and ignore proper procedures.
“You lie because your premiums will be higher,” one navigator advises an investigator for O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, who tells the worker he sometimes smokes. “Don’t tell them that. Don’t tell ’em.”
The investigator then poses as a low-income worker at a university who has unreported cash income on the side, worrying about how that might affect his premium subsidies. That’s no problem for a navigator, who says, “Don’t get yourself in trouble by declaring it now.”
“Yeah, it didn’t happen,” another navigator says. One more chimes in: “Never report it.”
Records show that the National Urban League was paid $376,000 by the federal government for its Obamacare outreach in Texas.
O’Keefe’s cameras then visit Enroll America, a nationwide nonprofit group that has launched a multi-state grassroots campaign to help millions of Americans sign up for health coverage. Daniel Clayton of Enroll America says the group is “purely nonprofit. It’s not partisan, non-political.” But when Brian Pendleton of Enroll America is introduced at a speaking engagement, Enroll America is described as “the official group for the DNC [Democratic National Committee].”
Enroll America, O’Keefe reports, appears to be sharing data and working directly with an explicitly political group called Battleground Texas, activities that he notes “are prohibited unless certain conditions are met.” Adrian Bell, the regional field director for Battleground Texas, proudly notes the group was “started by President Obama’s national field director” and is “dedicated to turning Texas blue.”
There’s much more in the video, which O’Keefe hints will not be his last. Left unexplored is how so many navigators nationwide were hired without any background checks required. While Texas and some other states have passed requirements of their own, the absence of such checks at the federal level was acknowledged by HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week. She was asked by Texas senator John Cornyn if “a convicted felon could be a navigator and could acquire sensitive personal information from an individual unbeknownst to them.”
“It’s possible,” was Secretary Sebelius’s less-than-comforting reply.
Michael Astrue served as commissioner of Social Security until earlier this year, and in the 1990s served as general counsel for HHS. He wrote in The Weekly Standard last month that he is genuinely frightened of the lax security surrounding the Obamacare website, and the fact that navigators will access the federal data hub to help people enroll:
HHS opened the door to large-scale fraud by providing funding for tens of thousands of “navigators”—people who are supposed to persuade the uninsured to apply for coverage and then assist them in the application process. Instead of hiring well-screened, well-trained, and well-supervised workers, HHS decided to build political support for the Affordable Care Act by pouring money into supportive organizations so they could launch poorly trained workers into their communities without obtaining criminal background checks or creating systems for monitoring their activities.
As a practical matter, these navigators are unaccountable, and yet they will be asking people for Social Security numbers and other sensitive information. It will not take long for navigators to become predators, and HHS has no plan to deal with the new breed of predators it is creating. The somnolent HHS inspector general has been silent about this scheme that will inflict widespread fraud and identity theft on vulnerable Americans.
Finally, we should all remember that the Minnesota exchange illegally disclosed the Social Security numbers of 2,400 of its state’s citizens 18 days before its exchange opened for business. With HHS’s convoluted patchwork of contractors, including the data centers of “the cloud,” tens of thousands of people have now gained access to our personal data.
In Texas, some of those people work for Local 100 United Labor Unions, a New Orleans group run by ACORN founder Wade Rathke. Local 100 is a “sub-grantee” providing navigators for the Southern United Neighborhoods group, which received a $600,678 grant to promote Obamacare enrollment. It also received a $270,193 grant for similar work in Arkansas and a $486,123 grant for Louisiana. Marcel Reid, a former dissident board member of ACORN who broke with the group in 2008 over its questionable practices, told me earlier this year, “ACORN is forming new groups under new mismanagement, and if Wade Rathke is involved in any of them, it spells trouble.”
Many of the Navigator problems uncovered in O’Keefe’s videos and by other media outlets could have been predicted, given the propensity of Obama World to associate with highly ideological and often administratively sloppy “community organizers.” Last Friday, the Washington Post ran a piece by Ed Rogers, a former top deputy in the 1988 George H. W. Bush campaign, entitled “Six Reasons Obamacare Will Get Worse for Democrats.” One reason leaps out:
Navigators. If you liked ACORN, you’ll love the Obamacare Navigators. I’m sure there will be good, sincere people who really want to help people navigate the Obamacare maze. But there will be enough bad apples employed as navigators to supply plenty of scary anecdotes and weird encounters that will result in a steady ridicule of the overall program. And there will no doubt be activists with hidden cameras ready to capture a few creepy and outrageous encounters that will grab everybody’s attention and make voters even more skeptical of Obamacare.
The law’s problems are coming from more sides than a pentadecagon. But one of the most serious things undermining its credibility is the Obama administraion’s seemingly complete indifference to corruption within one of the key groups tasked with its implementation. We’ll have to see just how much worse it gets.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for National Review Online.