Affordable Care Act

Obamacare ‘Navigators’ In Political Tug Of War In Texas

Texas officials are calling for more state regulation of federal contract workers who are on the ground promoting the Affordable Care Act. The existence of these workers, known as healthcare 'navigators,' has become politicized.

Alysia Greer is a healthcare navigator. She sits in the lobby of a medical building in northwest Houston.

Brochures about the Affordable Care Act are fanned out across a small folding table.

Greer calls out to patients as they walk by.

“Does everyone in your household have health insurance?”

Going to is one way people can shop for subsidized health plans.

But the website has been riddled with problems, so navigators like Greer are encouraging people to apply by mail or call the toll-free number, 800-318-2596.

Dorothy Green already has Medicaid, but she stopped at the table and grabbed an insurance marketplace application for a friend.

“Yeah, my neighbor. Because she doesn’t drive. And she’s asking me about it and I have no idea, as well as the other folks, (I’m) confused, you know?”

But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says he’s concerned about these navigators. He says they might misuse confidential information they gather while helping people sign up for health plans.  

“First of all, with regard to the system itself, we need to see a system that works, not one that’s broken. But secondly we do need to have criminal background checks, we need to have better training for these people who are — may be completely unversed in how to deal with someone’s private information.”

Abbott has asked the Texas Department of Insurance to regulate the navigators.

In fact,  the department was already working on new regulations, as directed by Governor Rick Perry.

But Alysia Greer takes issue with Abbott calling her unprepared.

She says patient privacy and security were a big part of her navigator training, which lasted over 20 hours and involved several tests.

“Perhaps he should go on and check out the training that we go through. And then he will be, he’ll be a better informed person to get out, and (he’ll) realize the volatility and the power that he has when he makes his statements.”

Greer says Abbott may be unnecessarily frightening uninsured people.

“I do think it will scare some people away. Because there are a lot of people who are very influenced, of course, by what the attorney general — or other people of political status –  say.”

Greer says when she assists people on a computer, she turns the screen towards them and away from herself, and never even sees Social Security numbers or income information.

In any case, the Affordable Care Act itself prohibits disclosure of personal information, and imposes a $25,000 fine for doing so.

And navigators who did steal information would also face 15 years in prison under federal identity theft law.

Nevertheless, the Texas Department of Insurance is currently working on more rules for the navigators in Texas.

A spokesman says the process could take several more months because the rules will go through two rounds of public comment. 


Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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