Obamacare includes a requirement that all marketplaces prepare “Navigators,” “In-Person Assisters,” or “Certified Application Counselors.” These organizations and individuals are supposed to be trained to help Americans — should they desire assistance with the process — apply for and purchase insurance plans through the Obamacare marketplaces.
However — and inexplicably, as the cause of this situation is not being made available to the public — people seeking assistance will be presented with search results from a database that includes individuals and organizations which are simply not certified to help.
Citizens of the 34 states that chose not to create their own exchange (and thus must use the federal Healthcare.gov website) can search for application assistance at LocalHelp.Healthcare.gov. On this page, users are prompted to enter their location. Users then will receive search results comprising the entities available to assist in the users’ respective areas.
See below for a screen shot of this service in action — I entered “Illinois”, and I then received 558 search results consisting of Illinois’ navigator/assister/counselor contact information:
Along with the results, LocalHelp.Healthcare.gov will always also return the “Important notes” text box visible above. Note the second sentence:
Application Assisters listed on this page may still be completing federal and state certification requirements.
On Tuesday, I contacted the Healthcare.gov help hotline — 1-800-318-2596 — to ask questions about three issues:
1. Why are uncertified entities appearing in the search results?
2. What does “may still be completing” precisely mean? Might I receive search results that include entities which have completed zero percent of the certification process? Can you confirm that the search results aren’t simply a list of raw applications, in which case an identity thief could simply submit an application and then be recommended by the site? If there is some filtering required before an entity appears in the search results, has a background check at least occurred before an entity is allowed to appear?
3. What happens if I call someone who is uncertified? Have they been instructed to reject all calls until they are certified? If so, again: why are they appearing in the search results? How could you possibly have any confidence they would follow such an order?
I was placed on hold for a few minutes, and then the representative returned with the following answer. She said the answer came from a superior. I was told that it was a standard, pre-prepared answer, and she was going to read it to me word-for-word:
Application assisters listed on this page may still be completing federal and state certification requirements. They are obligated to let you know if they are certified or not if you contact them. If they are not certified, they cannot help you.
This is the entirety of the answer the representative was able to give.
She said she was not able to tell me — and insisted that she simply did not know, and was not being prevented from telling me — if “Find Local Help” simply returns listings of all entities who have submitted applications to become Obamacare application helpers.
She did not know if “Find Local Help” returns listings of entities that have completed 0% of the registration process, 50% of the process, a background check, any training at all, etc.
She said that no superior available to her was either aware of the correct answer or allowed to give it to her.
The only information available to her — and thus the public — is that the “Find Local Help” database includes listings of entities that are not certified, whatever that definition entails.
If you choose to call an entity from this database, the only action Healthcare.gov has taken — or the only action you are permitted to know about — towards preventing fraudulent actors/identity thieves from taking part in a process involving your private information is this: they have been told they are “obligated” to turn you away.
Logically, the need to inform these entities of their “obligation” does not arise, of course, if uncertified entities are simply not permitted to appear in the search results.
Why is this situation a reality? As prevention would require simply a “Yes/No” field in each database entry, your guess is as good as mine.