Four Texas congressmen took aim Monday at the federally paid navigators who are helping Texans access insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Their criticism came during an unusual "field hearing" by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing focused on required navigator training and the lack of background checks and fingerprinting for those on the job.
It's easy for House Republicans to hold an endless stream of congressional hearings condemning the Affordable Care Act, some of which generate attention from reporters covering Capitol Hill. But recently, GOP lawmakers have embraced "field hearings" -- official congressional hearings held outside the Beltway, offering Americans far from Washington, D.C., a chance to hear Republicans bash "Obamacare" in person.
As we talked about last week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has already held anti-ACA hearings in Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia, and yesterday, the Republican road trip reached Richardson, Texas, near Dallas.
Each of the field hearings, it turns out, focuses loosely on a different complaint about the federal health care law. Yesterday's gathering let Issa and his colleagues complain for a couple of hours -- to roughly 200 people -- about the Navigator program, made up of folks who help guide Americans through the process of signing up for coverage, either through Medicaid or through an exchange marketplace.
For those eager to sabotage the law, the hope is by targeting navigators, there will be fewer people available to help consumers, which means fewer Americans will enroll and get insured, which would undermine the system and satisfy Republican goals.
That yesterday's event was in Texas -- the state with the highest uninsured rate in the nation -- only seemed to add insult to injury.
But as was the case with the previous field hearings, attendees heard exclusively from Republican lawmakers, eager to repeat predictable talking points. For example, when Dr. Randy Farris, regional administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, testified that private consumer information isn't stored at healthcare.gov, Issa told him, "You need to watch more Fox, I'm afraid."
No, seriously, that's what he said.
Proponents of the Affordable Care Act were allowed to sit in the room for the hearing, but as with Issa's previous field hearings, they were not permitted to speak. (Some held a news conference before the event.)
The point of field hearings, at least in the abstract, is for lawmakers to receive information needed for policymaking, not give information needed for campaign politics. And that's ultimately what rankles most -- these are supposed to be official congressional hearings, but they're clearly little more than partisan charades, paid for by American taxpayers.
As we discussed last week, Issa and his GOP colleagues are free to hold political rallies, and travel the country condemning public access to affordable care. But they should drop the pretense that these are legitimate congressional hearings. They're not.