Tens of thousands of health care professionals, union workers and community activists hired as "navigators" to help Americans choose Obamacare options starting Oct. 1 could earn $20 an hour or more, according to new regulations issued Wednesday.
The 63-page rule covering navigators, drawn up by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, also said the government will provide free translators for those not fluent in English -- no matter what their native language is.
"The proposed requirements would also include that such entities and individuals provide consumers with information and assistance in the consumer's preferred language, at no cost to the consumer, which would include oral interpretation of non-English languages and the translation of written documents in non-English languages when necessary to ensure meaningful access," said the regulations.
The rules also addressed conflict of interest and other potential issues that navigators could face as the public's first stop on the Obamacare trail.
It is still not clear how many navigators will be required. California, however, provides a hint. It wants 21,000.
That could be an expensive proposition. The proposed rules, now open for public comment, suggest an estimated pay of $20-$48 an hour.
"There is a section of the proposed regulation where our financial analysts estimate how financially significant the regulation will be. In that section, for the purposes of estimating that impact, they assumed navigators would be paid an average of $20 an hour. That is an estimate, not a recommendation or a requirement," said an administration official. "States and organizations are not required by the federal government to set any payment levels for these employees," he added.
The rules allow navigators to come from the ranks of unions, health providers and community action groups such as ACORN and Planned Parenthood. They are required to provide unbiased advice.
Some in Congress are already wary of the navigators. Louisiana Republican Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee, has raised questions about a voter registration provision in the Obamacare application Americans will have to fill out to receive health care, and whether Democratic-leaning activists will influence which party people choose to join.