J. Robert McClure: Wary of the knocking Navigators


Published: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 20, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.

Many Americans believe today that the federal government has become too big, too invasive and too unwieldy. Indeed if you are one of those citizens who thought some of the questions asked during the 2010 Census were a bit too nosy, just wait until you meet the next wave of folks who may come knocking on your door this fall.

The “Navigators” are the hastily hired, lightly trained, and insufficiently vetted emissaries for the health insurance exchanges mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Press reports say the Navigators will be paid about $15 an hour. They’ll be paid using $67 million in federal grants funneled mostly through community organizations sympathetic to the cause. So essentially, you will have temporary employees with little loyalty or accountability to their employer asking, “What’s your Social Security number?”

What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, as evident from a massive breach of personal data in Minnesota last week. Such careless handling of personal information could lead to identify theft, a crime so much on the rise that it has prompted a series of public service announcements warning viewers against sharing their personal information with strangers, whether in person, on the web, or over the phone.

No wonder 13 state attorneys general have warned about the possibility that giving personal information to the Navigators could cause problems. Indeed, that’s why the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) ordered the directors of the state’s 60 local health departments to prevent Navigators from lurking around their offices and pestering patients to sign up.

It’s also a reminder that you don’t have to be paranoid or a partisan foe of this unpopular and intrusive law to be concerned if and when a Navigator knocks. Even so, some health care law supporters have tried to make it a partisan issue by portraying legitimate questions as mere attempts to oppose the President. The defenders are also trying to minimize the public’s concerns. Typical are the editorials in the traditional media criticizing the FDOH decision.

Consider this mix of non sequiturs in a strident Miami Herald editorial, which not only blasted this FDOH decision, but also the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid and establish state-run health insurance exchanges. The Herald writes: “…virtually all Americans -- anyone who contributes to Social Security, pays taxes to the IRS, is a veteran of the armed forces or otherwise has any contact with the federal government -- is already in a federal database of one sort or another without privacy becoming a serious concern.”

Partly true. Yet even though the feds may already have this information, the Navigators don’t and, a lot could happen to your personal information while it’s in transit between the stranger at your door and the feds. As we’ve seen with both the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Agency scandals, unaccountable people acting on behalf of the government with your personal information can be a very dangerous thing.

In yet another non sequitur, The Herald notes that “U.S. Health and Human Services officials have stated unequivocally that ‘consumers will never be asked to provide their personal health information to the (insurance) Marketplace, whether through a Navigator or not.’”

Leaving aside the issue of whether -- after the troubling disclosures concerning the NSA and the IRS -- federal bureaucrats can be trusted, the Herald’s comment is irrelevant. Navigators may not get your health information, but they’ll still want your personal information.

This isn’t to suggest that the Navigators should be met with hostility. After all, they’re just trying to do a job. No doubt many of them also mean well. Yet the reality is that these government workers are trying to bring the uninsured the “blessings” of paying for health insurance, whether or not people want or need it. This is what inevitably happens when a paternalistic government assumes that it knows what’s best for everyone and resorts to penalties – in this case a tax – when persuasion fails.

J. Robert McClure is President/CEO of The James Madison Institute, a free-market think tank based in Tallahassee.

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