EDITORIAL: Obamacare navigators’ criminal records should be public

Never underestimate the government’s desire to keep taxpayers in the dark about public business.

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?

National Review and other media organizations subsequently began their own background investigations into navigators, many of whom were hired by firms with political connections to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. National Review investigative reporter Jillian Melchior found 11 Nevada navigators were potential matches against defendants in a criminal court database, so she requested records from the state Division of Insurance to verify whether these workers had criminal histories and, if so, how they managed to land the jobs.

Under Nevada law, the documents Ms. Melchior seeks are public records. As happens too often across Nevada and the rest of the country, her request was denied.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal joined National Review in suing the Division of Insurance to compel the release of that information. The public records lawsuit was filed Friday in Carson City District Court.

It’s a slam dunk. In denying Ms. Melchior’s request, the division said it was prohibited from releasing any criminal history records because, under NRS 179A.110, “No person who receives information relating to records of criminal history … may disseminate the information further without express authority of law or in accordance with a court order.” But, as reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Tom Ragan, that same law exempts news media from that standard.

“The purpose of the (Nevada Public Records Act) is to ensure the accountability of the government to the public by facilitating public access to vital information about governmental activities,” the lawsuit states.

Statewide, Nevada governments spend millions of dollars every year employing public information officers, primarily to serve as agency contacts for the news media. But some of these officers instead work to keep a lid on public information, especially if it’s potentially embarrassing to the government. That might explain why, according to the lawsuit, Division of Insurance spokesman Jake Sunderland “refused to provide any meaningful assistance and instead became extremely aggravated and, in fact, hung up the telephone on Ms. Melchior.”

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.

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