California Republicans Call for Hearing, Citing National Review Report on Criminal Navigators

by Jillian Kay Melchior

California’s Republican lawmakers are calling for a hearing in response to yesterday’s National Review Online investigative report, which found that 43 Obamacare navigators have criminal convictions, including for forgery and welfare fraud.

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway and Assemblyman Brian Nestande wrote:

We understand that individuals who have paid their debt to society deserve a second chance, but felons convicted of financial crimes should be disqualified from being hired by the state as navigators. Allowing these individuals to have access to private information, such as Social Security numbers, would be like giving an auto thief a set of car keys.

Several past and present bills have sought to strengthen Covered California’s consumer-protection measures, according to a news release issued yesterday.

In response to a records request from NRO, Covered California released limited statistics about certified enrollment counselors, one classification of navigators helping enroll people in Obamacare health coverage.

“Assemblyman Brian Nestande asked Covered California twice for information regarding hiring felons, but the state agency has failed to respond to his requests,” according to a news release from Conway’s office.

The statistics released to NRO revealed:

At least 43 convicted criminals are working as navigators in California.

One navigator committed forgery twice in twelve years and was also convicted of burglary in between.

One navigator was convicted for committing welfare fraud and had also been caught shoplifting on at least two occasions.

Another navigator had two more forgery convictions, as well as a domestic-violence charge.

At least seven navigators had multiple convictions but were still approved.

Even though applicants are required to self-report prior offenses, records show that 21 prospective certified enrollment counselors failed to do so — and were approved anyway, even though their background check revealed criminal convictions.

In some other states that conduct background checks, a financial-crimes conviction is automatically disqualifying. But a Covered California spokesman tells NRO: “There isn’t any law that says we should consider financial crimes as something that will follow you through the rest of your life, and therefore you should not have a job. That’s just not appropriate.”

Regarding the 43 convictions, the spokesman says: “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.”

In a letter to NRO, a Covered California lawyer explained one of the reasons he could not release some of the records we had requested:

All of these documents are nondisclosable because ‘the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record. . . . Disclosing the names and criminal records of individuals applying to assist in Covered California’s push to enroll vast numbers in health insurance by March 31, 2014, is likely to discourage participation in this critical program and thus harm the people of California.

Read more here.