The individuals and groups tasked with helping people enroll for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act are facing a stiff head wind of restrictive laws, regulations and outright obstruction in some Republican-led states.
In Florida, health officials won’t allow these so-called “navigators” onto county health department properties to help uninsured people sign up for coverage in the new state insurance marketplaces.
In Georgia, state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens recently told a gathering of Republican supporters that the state would do “everything in our power to be an obstructionist” of the Affordable Care Act.
Navigators also have drawn the ire of congressional Republicans, who’ve asked 51 navigator groups nationwide for detailed information about their activities, funding and staffing just as the groups are training and preparing for the launch Oct. 1 of the marketplace open-enrollment period.
In a recent hearing on the health law, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., called the Republican requests “despicable.”
“This is an egregious abuse of the committee process and an attempt to intimidate community organizations and overwhelm them with information requests at a crucial period so that they don’t implement the program,” Pallone said.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, was unapologetic.
“Why wouldn’t we have questions about the vast sums of money that have been pushed out the door relatively hastily to these navigator groups,” Burgess said. “Why wouldn’t we have questions as to their credentials . . . their ability to provide what they’ve been required to provide?”
The Obama administration responded to the Republicans on behalf of the navigator groups, but the political scrutiny and heightened legislative oversight have taken a toll. Several navigator organizations around the country have returned their Affordable Care Act funding and dropped out of the program because of complications involving state laws.
Trained to be impartial consumer-outreach workers who are prohibited from recommending one health plan over another, navigators are crucial to meeting the Obama administration’s goal of enrolling 7 million Americans in health coverage through the marketplaces next year.
But that undertaking has been complicated by the navigators’ late start, their limited funding and widespread public confusion about Obamacare. Tough state laws regulating the navigators have added to the challenge