The fight over Obamacare's rollout intensified on Wednesday, as the White House and Republican leaders clashed over whether the public can trust the government to properly manage new health insurance exchanges.
Sensitive about growing public uncertainty over the president’s signature legislative achievement, the Obama administration sought to convince Americans that Obamacare benefits would only go to eligible recipients and that their personal information would be protected.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough held a meeting with state health officials at the White House on Wednesday to tout anti-fraud measures.
They outlined measures including a call center for consumer complaints, a website to report fraud and an education campaign offering tips for how to avoid insurance scams.
“With these initiatives, we think we’re making significant contributions toward preventing ... prosecuting and punishing activities that we will not in any way accept,” a senior administration official said Wednesday.
Republicans, though, are hardly convinced that the administration’s efforts will protect Americans’ private information.
GOP officials targeted their concerns on the so-called “navigators” who will handle the data of those enrolling in health exchanges beginning in October.
“These ‘navigators’ are not required by the federal government to have background checks or to even have high school diplomas, yet they will be tasked with handling Americans’ most sensitive personal information, such as medical records and even tax returns,” Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., said on Wednesday. “The American people should not trust their most sensitive information to people that have this little training and not even so much as a background check.”
The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday also released a report charging that Obamacare remains susceptible to fraud and privacy concerns.
A senior administration official, however, accused Republicans of turning the navigators into political “targets” and said that employees have ample experience in operating other health programs, such as Medicare.
The administration official said that “scam artists” would try to deceive Obamacare enrollees but that federal officials are doing all they can to crack down on wrongdoing.
The dustup is part of a broader fight over the health care reform rollout as supporters and critics wage fierce campaigns to sway public opinion.
House Republicans are also voting to defund Obamacare in the continuing resolution to maintain government funding. But that measure is likely dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama has warned the GOP that their efforts could lead to a government shutdown.
But with polls showing the public is uncertain about many of the healthcare law’s key features, Republicans see their attacks on Obamacare as an effective way to hammer the president and Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterms.
The White House Wednesday hit back at the notion that they rolled out the Obamacare anti-fraud campaign in reaction to GOP criticism.
“We wanted to send signals before people start enrolling,” a senior administration official insisted.
The administration will also host a series of anti-fraud events nationwide in the final days before the exchanges launch, officials said.