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When Obamacare sabotage turns cruel

The American health care system, even before the Affordable Care Act was passed, can be quite complicated, and it's easy for American consumers to get confused.
When Obamacare sabotage turns cruel
When Obamacare sabotage turns cruel

The American health care system, even before the Affordable Care Act was passed, can be quite complicated, and it's easy for American consumers to get confused. The Democratic reform law offers terrific new benefits to the uninsured, and obviously strengthens health security for those who already have insurance, but it doesn't necessarily make the system less complex.

The architects of "Obamacare" anticipated this and planned accordingly. In recent months, the Obama administration has partnered with dozens of local organizations nationwide to hire "navigators." As the name implies, these are folks who've been tasked with helping American consumers "navigate" the new system and sign up for benefits they're legally entitled to. Unsure if you're eligible for your state's exchange marketplace? A navigator can help. Confused about how to choose the coverage plan that's best for you? A navigator can guide you through it.

The problem, as you might have guessed, is that Republican officials are still eager to sabotage the federal health care system and prevent the uninsured from getting coverage in the new system. Their other attempts at sabotage have had mixed results, so GOP lawmakers are now launching an intimidation campaign, going after the navigators in the hopes of making sure those who don't have insurance stay that way.

Republicans in different states are targeting navigators in different ways. In Ohio, navigators are forbidden from comparing and contrasting insurance plans for customers. Why? Just because. In Georgia, navigators are now expected to pass the state insurance-agent test. Republicans in Congress are hoping to bury navigators in a mountain of paperwork, demanding that they produce unrealistic amounts of materials by next week or else.

But Brian Beutler reports this week on a heartless twist on the larger effort.

Last week, as several other outlets reported, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to state agencies and nonprofit groups that received Obamacare "navigator" grants -- organizations that will help educate people about the law and facilitate their enrollment -- seeking an incredibly broad and difficult-to-compile range of information.The effort's pretty clearly intended to bog down the navigators ahead of enrollment, which could easily reduce the number of people who end up insured under the law. Republicans claim that the inquiry is intended to protect beneficiaries' private information.But if the goal were to establish best practices for the navigators, they have a strange way of going about it. All of the navigator grant recipients are based in states with federally facilitated exchanges and states partnering with the feds to stand up their marketplaces. Salon's analysis reveals that among these states, Republicans directed their inquiries to organizations in states with the largest uninsured populations.

This is no small detail.

Congressional Republicans aren't just harassing navigators out of partisan spite; these GOP lawmakers are carefully targeting navigators in specific states. The effort could have taken a broader approach and launched a national intimidation campaign, but Republicans instead skipped past navigators helping consumers in states where the rates of the uninsured are already rather low.

And why would the GOP officials do it this way? Probably to get the biggest bang for their sabotage buck -- if the goal is to keep the number of people without access to basic, affordable care as high as possible, then it's logical to try to stop navigators where they're likely to have the greatest impact.

Brian added, "Republicans could easily respond that they targeted organizations in these states because they wanted to protect as many uninsured people as they can. But that would be another way of saying they hope their inquiry slows the enrollment process as much as possible."

Jonathan Cohn added this week, "With the new insurance marketplaces set to open in exactly four weeks, these organizations are scrambling to get ready in time. But now, thanks to the House Republicans, they're also scrambling to answer a committee request for information."

If Americans are forced to go without as a consequence, so be it.

Some are being less subtle than others about their ugly campaign of partisan spite. "Let me tell you what we're doing (about ObamaCare)," Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans last month: "Everything in our power to be an obstructionist."