The Corner

How Many Obamacare Navigators Have Criminal Pasts?

Thirty-eight of New Mexico’s Obamacare navigators – about one in seven — had a hit in the FBI’s criminal database, I report today.

As I write in my story, a match doesn’t necessarily mean a conviction – the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database includes everything from arrest warrants to cases where defendants were acquitted. Nevertheless:

Certified New Mexico navigators had been charged with crimes including: eight domestic-violence charges, including aggravated battery and aggravated assault of a household member; four drug charges; two larceny charges; one petty-theft charge; one shoplifting charge; and two child-abuse charges. There were also several driving-related charges, including DWIs, DUIs, and speeding or traffic crimes. In at least two instances, navigators had traffic charges for lacking insurance.

Of course, some offenses aren’t too relevant when considering whether or not someone should be trusted to serve as a navigator. There’s also a reasonable debate to be had about whether the public interest is served by allowing the employment of former criminals who have truly demonstrated their commitment to reforming themselves and becoming upstanding citizens.

However, because Obamacare navigators deal directly with a vulnerable population, and because they have access to so much confidential data, a criminal past is reason for concern. It’s critical that the public be aware of possible risks associated with certain Obamacare navigators.

New Mexico’s Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, which handles navigator certification, seems to have a fairly reasonable screening process in place, as I explain in the story. Its background-check safeguards successfully identified and stopped several would-be navigators who had a history of significant financial crimes. And, commendably, New Mexico’s public-information officer showed extraordinary commitment to transparency, going the extra mile to make sure I promptly received the public records I’d requested.

The same cannot be said of all states operating health exchanges. Hawaii has bafflingly exempted its health exchange from open-records law altogether. In Massachusetts, navigators aren’t required to pass a background check. In several states, exchanges rely heavily on their private-sector partners to check navigators’ backgrounds and make hiring decisions. And National Review is currently suing Nevada’s Division of Insurance for similar records regarding navigators’ criminal histories, as the Associated Press reported earlier this week:

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Carson City against the Nevada Division of Insurance, seeks [among other things] background information on 11 current or former workers who National Review reporter Jill Melchior believes may have criminal convictions. The division has previously denied the requests, saying the information is confidential.

A recent editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, also a party to our suit, explains why it’s so important that these records be released:

The jobs of Obamacare “navigators,” the people charged with signing up Americans for health insurance, are funded by tax dollars and require the collection of enrollees’ personal and financial data. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told federal lawmakers this fall that the Affordable Care Act does not require navigators to undergo criminal background checks, and that it was possible for felons to land jobs that gave them access to Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses, the hiring protocols for these positions suddenly became a legitimate issue of public concern.

Could identity thieves be working as Obamacare navigators? . . .

The public has a clear interest in learning whether its governments are hiring criminals to perform jobs that might allow them to commit more crimes. And it’s absurd that it will require a lawsuit and a judge’s order to compel the release of that information. The public’s business is public. Period.