WASHINGTON, Sept 9 The Obama administration on
Monday expressed concerns about a congressional Republican
inquiry aimed at nonprofit groups and other organizations that
are getting ready to enroll people in subsidized insurance under
President Barack Obama's healthcare reform.
Less than two weeks ago, a Republican-controlled oversight
committee in the U.S. House of Representatives sent questions to
51 groups in 11 states that have received $67 million in federal
grants to hire and train "navigators" who will help uninsured
people apply for health coverage in new online marketplaces
beginning Oct. 1.
In a move that Democrats have decried as intimidation,
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee want
navigator groups to provide detailed documentation of training
and education, internal monitoring policies, and systems for
handling personal information, contacts with insurers and
On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
responded in writing on behalf of the navigators as a whole.
"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 health
insurance," Jim Esquea, assistant HHS secretary for legislation,
said in a letter to the panel's Republican chairman, Fred Upton.
The committee's Republican spokeswoman, Noelle Clemente,
said the panel has had "positive and productive conversations"
with navigators and expects to continue to do so.
The exchange between HHS and the committee comes barely
three weeks before the Oct. 1 deadline for the start of
enrollment, a launch date that may be subject to technical
glitches as state and federal officials race to complete testing
of the high-tech systems needed to operate the marketplaces.
Experts say technical issues could prompt officials to rely
more heavily on paper insurance applications in the opening
weeks of the enrollment process, which runs through March 31.
A subcommittee of Upton's House panel will hold a hearing on
Tuesday to examine preparations for enrollment and take
testimony from key government contractors including Serco Inc, a
U.S. subsidiary of Serco Group Plc that won a $1.25
billion contract to process paper applications.
In written testimony posted to the committee website on
Monday, Serco says it is prepared to manage 6.2 million paper
applications from Oct. 1 to March 31. The company said that
represents about 30 percent of an expected 22 million
applications for private insurance, government health coverage
for the poor and exemptions from the law.