At least 43 convicted criminals are working as Obamacare navigators in California, including three individuals with records of significant financial crimes.
Although some of the offenses are decades old, and although convicted criminals account for only 1 percent of the 3,729 certified enrollment counselors in the state, Californians still have good cause to be concerned about their privacy.
Even a single crooked navigator could do significant harm to the public. That’s because when navigators sign consumers up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, they have access to lots of private information, including Social Security numbers, home addresses, and financial data — basically, everything on the wish list of identity thieves and fraudsters. Navigators also are likely to work with a population that is more vulnerable than average.
Limited statistics released by Covered California — the state’s new health-insurance exchange — showed that one navigator has repeat forgery offenses — one in 1982, then another in 1994, with a burglary in between. Another had two forgery convictions in 1988, in addition to a domestic-violence charge a decade later. Another committed welfare fraud in 1999 and had shoplifted on at least two prior occasions. Since 2000, individuals now working as navigators have committed crimes including child abuse, battery, petty theft, and evading a police officer. At least seven navigators have multiple convictions. The information released covered only certified enrollment counselors, one of the three types of navigators working in California.
These statistics raise a delicate and controversial issue. On the one hand, it’s in the public interest to give former criminals the chance to reform themselves and make a living in the legitimate economy. On the other hand, innocent consumers deserve adequate protection of their private information, especially when they’re being compelled to buy something.
Last year, California’s Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully requested that Covered California establish a policy forbidding anyone with a prior conviction, regardless of the date, to work as a navigator.
Assemblyman Brian Nestande, a Republican from the Inland Empire, says, “One person can do tremendous harm with access to that type of information, and you run that possibility with people with clean records, so you certainly don’t want to up your odds by mixing in people with criminal records. . . . You can have somewhat of an argument if someone did one thing a long time ago, but to have a repeated offense of forgery — that’s a huge red flag. That person should not be allowed access to this type of information.”
Covered California’s spokesman, Dana Howard, explained the exchange’s logic in hiring navigators with criminal records: “These charges are old. People make mistakes. They paid their debt to society. They rehabilitated themselves. And so they apply, and they meet the qualifications. We do not see them as a threat.”
But other official correspondence suggests the opposite. In December, Covered California wrote me a letter explaining why it could not release the public records I had requested about its navigators’ criminal histories, offering statistics as a compromise. It cited “deliberative process privilege,” and it also claimed that releasing the records would violate the privacy of the navigators. (Odd, isn’t it?, that the criminal navigators’ privacy rights are apparently valued more than consumers’ privacy rights.)