Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin joined the chorus of right-wing voices fearmongering about health care officials, known as “navigators,” which have been used by previous administrations to inform consumers about health care options.
In her syndicated column, Malkin attacked the health care navigators, people employed by the government to assist Americans in understanding their options under the health care reform law. Malkin claimed the navigators would be “yet another Obama threat to Americans' privacy,” saying Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a “sordid snooping history” and concluding “you can't trust sleazy Sebelius to navigate anything with her broken ethical compass.” Malkin's column was highlighted by Fox Nation:
But the health care navigator program existed before President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Sara Rosenbaum, writing at the George Washington University's HealthReformGPS blog, pointed out that the program is modeled after the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which has been used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to inform Medicare beneficiaries about programs like prescription drug benefits and Medicaid Advantage programs. Health care expert Timothy Jost questioned the controversy over the program, writing:
The Affordable Care Act's navigator program was modeled after the successful State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) which has offered assistance to Medicare beneficiaries trying to figure out the complexities of Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan offerings. The original concept of the ACA navigator program was that exchanges would give grants to community and small business organizations to educate and provide unbiased information to individuals and small employers to help them navigate the new health insurance marketplace and enroll in health insurance plans. Navigators will be particularly helpful to millions of uninsured Americans who will be purchasing health insurance on their own for the first time and who will be eligible either for Medicaid or for premium assistance tax credits. Many of these consumers will be unfamiliar with health insurance or not literate in English.
In addition, according to proposed regulations and contrary to Malkin's privacy claims, the navigators will undergo training in order to guarantee personal information is kept confidential:
The Exchange regulations, at 45 CFR § 155.260(a), establish privacy and security standards for Exchanges, and § 155.260(b) provides that Exchanges must require Navigators and other non-Exchange entities to abide by the same or more stringent privacy and security standards as a condition of contract or agreement with such entities. Consistent with these requirements, we propose that the training for Navigators and non-Navigator assistance personnel must include training designed to ensure that they safeguard consumers' sensitive personal information including but not limited to health information, income and tax information, and Social Security number.
Malkin is not the first right-wing media figure to fearmonger about health care navigators. Rush Limbaugh claimed that navigators will register voters as Democrats and “smear Republicans,” adding “it doesn't say that, I just know what this is.” Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed the program could “allow these jobs of the navigators to be filled by organizations with political agendas, including unions and community action groups.”