Florida bars Obamacare aides at public health centers

Florida bars Obamacare aides at public health centers
Florida bars Obamacare aides at public health centers
Associated Press

We’ve been keeping an eye on Republican efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, including the recent focus on “navigators.” Leave it to Florida to take this to a new level.

To briefly recap, the Obama administration has partnered with organizations nationwide to hire navigators who’ve been tasked with helping American consumers navigate the new system and sign up for benefits they’re legally entitled to. Unsure if you’re eligible for your state’s exchange marketplace? A navigator can help. Confused about how to choose the coverage plan that’s best for you? A navigator can guide you through it.

Republican officials have determined that cracking down on navigators may help keep the uninsured from signing up for coverage. But Florida is taking this to levels unseen elsewhere.

Florida has issued an order that will prevent residents from finding out how they can sign up for expanded subsidized health insurance at county health departments.

The directive bans the outreach activities of “navigators,” or counselors hired under the Affordable Care Act to help low-income, uninsured residents sign up for the state’s expanded insurance program.

“This is another blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Fabien Levy.

Yes, actually, it is blatant and shameful, though Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) administration doesn’t seem to care.

A former county health director in the state added that the policy is “cruel and irresponsible,” and will “significantly compromise a multitude of needy Floridians from getting critical health care.” That’s also true, and I imagine, it’s the point.

Consider this in practical terms. A struggling family, lacking insurance, may go to a county health center seeking assistance. While there, a trained navigator is available to help that family sign up for coverage they can afford. According to Florida’s HHS, this is strictly prohibited because, well, because the Scott administration says so.

I recognize that the right gets a little hysterical when “Obamacare” comes up, but is anyone prepared to defend the Florida policy as sensible?

Incidentally, the Obama administration is getting a little tired of congressional Republicans trying to harass and intimidate navigators, too.

Sarah Kliff reported this week:

Republican lawmakers have questions for the groups signing up the uninsured for Obamacare. They have, in fact, lots of questions. Their questions were detailed in a three-page letter sent earlier this month to more than 100 “navigator” groups, which had received federal funding for health law enrollment.

Health and Human Services stepped in Monday morning with a response on behalf of the groups – and a retort.

“We are concerned about the timing of your inquiry given its potential to interfere with the Navigators ability to carry out their crucial efforts in assisting Americans who lack health insurance,” Jim Esquea, assistant secretary for legislaton at HHS, writes in a response to Congress.

As correspondence in federal bureaucracies go, this was about as close as HHS gets to saying, “We’re tired of Congress’ b.s.”

Rick Scott, Affordable Care Act, Obamacare and Florida

Florida bars Obamacare aides at public health centers