In a Sept. 9 four-page letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Jim Esquea, HHS assistant secretary for legislation, wrote that “we are concerned about the timing of your inquiry given its potential to interfere with the Navigators' ability to carry out their crucial efforts in assisting Americans who lack insurance.”
Esquea noted that HHS previously provided committee staff with detailed information about the navigator grant process, access to the navigators' Web-based training, and staff briefings on the navigator program. Then he answered the committee's questions in detail, to save the navigator groups the time and effort.
In an Aug. 29 letter (PDF) to 51 organizations that will be hiring and training navigators in 11 states where the federal government will be running the exchanges, GOP committee members had asked the groups to provide details of the work that will be done with the federal funds.
The GOP lawmakers wanted to know how much navigator staff will be paid, a description of the training navigators will undergo, what policies are in place to monitor their work, and whether the organization has been contacted by insurers, providers or any other entities. The committee also asked for copies of all communications between the navigator groups and any government agency about the grants.
Esquea's letter noted that the description of the navigators' work is contained in the CMS regulations and funding opportunity announcement, then summarized their duties. He also sent the committee the applications submitted by the navigator groups, including their proposed budgets. He summarized the content of the 20-hour training navigator staff will receive. He described the procedures for monitoring the navigators, and went through the CMS conflict-of-interest standards the navigators have to comply with.
“We trust that our response fully addresses your questions about the Navigator program and the guidelines and controls in place to monitor the work of the awardees,” Esquea concluded. “If you or your staff have additional questions, we are happy to address them, including by providing further briefings on the work that the Navigator grantees are doing.”
Reform observers will be watching with interest to see if the HHS letter satisfies Upton and his Republican colleagues.
Follow Harris Meyer on Twitter: @MHHmeyer