CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Clarksburg-based nonprofit group has abruptly declined a $365,000 federal grant to help West Virginians sign up for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
The decision by West Virginia Parent Training and Information Inc. came a week after state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey directed the nonprofit group to answer 26 questions about the group's personnel and hiring practices.
"We've declined [the grant] because of unforeseen circumstances," said WVPTI Executive Director Pat Haberbosch, who would not elaborate.
Morrisey, who has called for repealing the federal health-care law, is reviewing organizations that are helping to walk people through their health insurance options. Morrisey said the groups' employees could steal personal information, such as Social Security numbers and tax documents, from people who apply for health insurance under the ACA.
WVPTI had planned to help hundreds of low-income, disabled and rural residents in West Virginia enroll in health insurance plans through online marketplaces, which open Oct. 1.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller sharply criticized Morrisey, accusing him of bullying WVPTI and other groups that want to help people sort through health insurance choices.
"Our attorney general, who hates all of this Affordable Health Care Act, has intimidated one of the groups, so they've withdrawn, and it's really something that should be investigated . . . ," said Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said his Charleston-based nonprofit group might apply for the grant money that WVPTI has turned down.
WVPTI's replacement would have just three weeks to hire and train workers.
"It's unclear what the [U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] is going to do at this point," Bryant said. "The question is: Will they have somebody else do this or will West Virginia consumers lose out?"
Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said she didn't know any details about WVPTI's decision to pull out of the "navigator" grant program.
"Our office remains very committed to protecting consumers and ensuring their private information is not put at risk due to unclear and incomplete rules established by the Department of Health and Human Services," Ryan said.
On Aug. 15, the federal government notified WVPTI that it would receive a $365,758 grant to help roll out health-care reform.
Haberbosch said a woman from Morrisey's office called WVPTI before mailing a letter with numerous questions. Haberbosch said she offered to send Morrisey's aide an information packet about WVPTI.
"She said, 'No, we really don't need that,'" Haberbosch recalled.
Days later, Morrisey sent a four-page letter to WVPTI, directing the nonprofit group to disclose its plans for protecting consumer information by Sept. 10.
"I was surprised," Haberbosch said about Morrisey's inquiry, "but, on the other hand, he is the attorney general and has the right to do that if it's based on protecting consumers. That's his job."
Morrisey's letter asked if WVPTI would require employee background checks and credit reports, and if its workers would wear "badges, ID cards or other insignia" to show they were certified counselors.
He also wanted to know about WVPTI's proposed employee monitoring programs, how the group would prevent conflicts of interest, and if it had professional liability insurance.
"As the state's chief legal officer with constitutional, common law and statutory authority to protect our consumers, I intend to use the information gathered to better assess the protections in place for consumer data obtained through the navigator program," Morrisey wrote in the letter to Haberbosch.
The following week, WVPTI notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that it would decline the grant money.