An inflammatory Fox Nation headline declared that "A Ton of ObamaCare Navigators Are Criminals," even though there is no clear evidence that the small number of navigators in question have been convicted of any crimes.
A January 16 post on Fox Nation attacked the Affordable Care Act's navigators, officials hired and trained to guide consumers through health care options and the application process, by posting a National Review Online article under the headline "A Ton of ObamaCare Navigators Are Criminals":
But Fox Nation's inflammatory headline is not supported by the NRO article, which only identifies a small number of navigators in New Mexico who may or may not have criminal backgrounds. After a review of public records, NRO found that 38 of the certified counselors "had a match in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database." The post went on to explain that being matched in the NCIC is not evidence that the individual committed a crime:
A hit in the NCIC does not necessarily reflect a criminal conviction. The database can include, for example, arrest records and criminal cases that were dismissed or led to an acquittal, according to the FBI.
An NCIC background check is "a tool for finding out if there may be an issue. It's not a tool for knowing that there is one," says Aaron Ezekiel, the OSI's director of Affordable Care Act Implementation Projects.
The records obtained by NRO did not specify how many of the 38 navigators with NCIC hits had been convicted of a crime. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress late last year that it was "possible" for convicted felons to be working as navigators.
The post went on to quote Ezekiel explaining that each navigator is carefully screened before licensing to ensure public safety:
The OSI's certification process was carefully crafted to protect the public, Ezekiel says. The OSI receives navigator applications from New Mexico's health exchange, running them through the NCIC system by name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Applicants who have committed a significant financial crime or were listed on the sex-offender registry are automatically disqualified.
For other navigator applicants who trigger NCIC hits, three OSI experts then review the results, assessing on a case-by-case basis whether a navigator should receive certification. For example, a 20-year-old shoplifting conviction for an otherwise upstanding citizen might not be disqualifying, while a recent fraud charge could be.
"We've been very careful not to provide licensure to anyone we thought was a risk," says Ezekiel, who was among the three OSI officials reviewing background-check results and making the certification decisions. He adds that while "reasonable people could disagree about this, of course," the existence of NCIC hits shouldn't in itself cause alarm.
The FBI's database has also come under fire for unreliability. The Washington Post pointed out that a 2010 Justice Department report found that many records were incomplete and the quality of the records varied wildly between states, problems that the FBI itself acknowledges:
In a statement, the FBI said it receives its data from state records agencies, and states are responsible for keeping the information updated.
At the state level, many of the records are incomplete. A report by the Justice Department in 2010, the most recent available, found that in about half the states, as many as two in five records were missing final outcomes. Twenty-seven states reported a backlog of disposition data. Transmitting the information from the courts to state records agencies could take less than a day in Delaware to 555 days in Kansas.
Updating the records of those who fall through the cracks can be confusing and cumbersome. FBI regulations say that employers and licensing agencies should give applicants time to challenge and correct their records, either by contacting the FBI or the jurisdiction that collected the data. But applicants are not always given a copy of their report or told why they were disqualified. Often, the burden is on them to prove an error was made.