Nevada ‘Protects’ Consumers by Refusing to Disclose Whether Navigators Are Felons

by Jillian Kay Melchior

Nevada’s Division of Insurance has claimed that by withholding information about navigators’ criminal records, it is acting in the best interest of consumers and public safety.

Nevada residents share with navigators confidential personal information, including Social Security numbers and income information, when they apply for Obamacare. And Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius has admitted it is possible that navigators could be felons.

Alarmingly enough, when I ran several navigators’ names through a Nevada criminal-court database, I came up with several possible matches. But without more identifying information, I was unable to verify whether these eleven navigators actually had the criminal histories I had flagged; after all, some of them had very common names.

So last month, National Review Online submitted a request under Nevada’s Open Records Act asking for, among other things, records “mentioning, discussing, or otherwise citing individuals (including the hires’/successful applicants’ names) who, to DOI’s [Division of Insurance] current knowledge, have a criminal record and were hired or approved as navigators by, with or for the DOI.” I brought up the navigators whose names had pulled up criminal charges, and I also asked about what the background check entailed and which offenses would disqualify someone from serving as a navigator in Nevada.

Not only did Nevada’s Division of Insurance, which oversees navigators’ screening, refuse to give me any records, but it cited, among other justifications, NRS 679B.190 (7).

That law states that “the Commissioner may classify as confidential the records of a consumer or information relating to a consumer to protect the health, welfare or safety of the consumer.”

In other words: Out of its profound devotion to consumer safety, the Nevada DOI refuses to tell you if you’re handing over your most sensitive personal information to a felon.

That’s not the only weird thing about the Nevada DOI’s response, either. It also justified withholding records by citing NRS 179.110, which was repealed . . . in 1967.

The Nevada DOI also informed me that my request about what background checks entailed and what offenses would disqualify someone from serving as a navigator was actually “not a proper request,” unhelpfully citing Nevada’s 14,329-word Open Records Law in the entirety. (It would have been more concise to simply tell me to go to hell.)

The Division’s non-response is even more irksome given the back story. Before I submitted my records request, I had called the Division’s public-information officer, Jake Sunderland, and asked for the statute, policy, or provision that would allow a convicted criminal to gain exemption to work as a navigator in Nevada.

He told me it would be “inappropriate” to answer that question. He advised me to file – you guessed it – a public-records request. And when I called him back to press him on why it would be “inappropriate” to answer my very simple question, Sunderland became quite agitated and hung up on me.

The public-relations rep at the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange was more helpful. He said he checked in with the eleven navigators whose names I had matched with a criminal charge in the courts, and they did not appear to be felons.

But it’s unclear how authoritatively he could vouch for their past. The official response to my records request from the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange formally noted that “the Exchange does not have legal custody or control” of records regarding the criminal history of the eleven navigators I had questions about, or background-check information for any of the navigators, for that matter. And the exchange informed me that the “Nevada Division of Insurance . . . may have legal custody or control of one or more public books or records so described.”

The lack of transparency surrounding Nevada’s navigators leaves a lot to be desired. We regrettably haven’t learned much — except that the Division of Insurance has a disconcertingly odd notion about what constitutes consumer protection.

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