The [Health and Human Services] department said 105 organizations received the grants to help explain coverage options in states where the federal government is running all or part of newly created insurance exchanges.
Republicans have raised questions about the navigators program, warning participants could make off with personal information from people seeking insurance.
The administration says the program will provide valuable assistance to people who do not understand their options or who prefer in-person assistance over Web and telephone support.
"Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
But these recently hired "navigators" could be navigating people right into fraud. Take for example skeptical Democrats in California, including Insurance Commissioner David Jones, who has warned the new exchanges could lead to rampant identity theft and fraud.
So who exactly is getting these "navigator funds"? Groups like Planned Parenthood, health clinics and universities. Planned Parenthood is currently being investigated by the Government Accountability Office for possible misuse of taxpayer funds.
As California prepares to launch its health care exchange, consumer groups are worried the uninsured could fall victim to fraud, identity theft or other crimes at the hands of some of the very people who are supposed to help them enroll.
The exchange, known as Covered California, recently adopted rules for a network of more than 21,000 enrollment counselors who will provide consumers with in-person assistance as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. In some cases, they will have access to personal and financial information, from ID cards to medical histories.
But the state insurance commissioner and anti-fraud groups say the exchange is falling short in ensuring that the people hired as counselors are adequately screened and monitored.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones also said the exchange does not have a plan for investigating any complaints that might arise once the counselors start work. That means consumers who might fall prey to bogus health care products, identity theft and other abuses will have a hard time seeking justice if unscrupulous counselors get ahold of their Social Security number, bank accounts, health records or other private information, he said.
"We can have a real disaster on our hands," Jones, a Democrat, said in an interview.