Joining a growing conservative movement around the country, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) made a move Tuesday that’s likely to impede efforts to sign up the uninsured for health insurance under Obamacare starting next month.
Perry sent a letter to the Texas Department of Insurance outlining new rules for Obamacare’s so-called navigators, organizations assigned to help people sign up for coverage, the Texas Tribune reported. Those rules include: 40 hours of mandatory security training on top of federally required training. He also wants navigators to pass a state-administered exam and be subjected to background checks.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly delayed explaining how its navigators were going to be created, how they were going to operate and how they were going to be regulated,” Perry said in the letter. “Because of the nature of navigators’ work and because they will be collecting confidential information, including birth dates, social security numbers and financial information, it is imperative that Texas train navigators on the collection and security of such data.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lambasted Perry’s move as a transparently political attempt to impede Obamacare’s implementation. HHS officials have repeatedly stressed that the security concerns of Perry and others are unfounded. The navigators, they said, are already vetted by the federal government and their access to private information has been overstated by GOP officials.
In fact, an HHS official told TPM, part of Perry’s guidance — which requires navigators to retain information about consumers who sign up for coverage — would actually violate the privacy regulations established for navigators by HHS.
“This is blatant attempt to add cumbersome requirements to the Navigator program and deter groups from working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage,” HHS spokesman Fabian Levy said in a statement. “This is clearly an ideologically driven attempt to prevent the uninsured from gaining health coverage.”
Perry’s use of insurance regulations to block navigator activities mirrors an approach taken by Republican officials in Oklahoma. In a Sept. 3 letter, sent to navigators and obtained by TPM, Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak outlined the types of activities that would require an insurance license. They included basic activities that would likely be undertaken by navigators, such as discussing coverage options, disseminating general information about health coverage, or helping consumers complete applications for coverage.
“Any person who performs actions within the exclusive domain of these licensed agents and brokers without a license will immediately be ordered to cease and desist and will be pursued to the full extent of the law,” Doak wrote.
Two weeks after the Doak letter, Cardon Outreach — which was supposed to serve as a navigator in Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Pennsylvania — told HHS that it would give back more than $800,000 in federal grant money that it had received.
Chuck Kable, chief legal officer for Cardon Outreach, told TPM Wednesday that the new state-level regulations contributed to the organizations decision to withdraw. “When we applied for the grant, we were comfortable with the scope of the program as presented, and what it meant for us as an organization,” Kable said. “However, after we applied, we observed a developing, consistent effort by states to draft new regulations regarding navigators, as well as an effort to ensure that navigators comply with existing regulations – most notably insurance brokerage related regulations. From our perspective, states are struggling to find a balance between state sovereignty interests and Federal navigator processes.”
As TPM has reported, Florida is another state where Republican officials have issued directives that would limit the activities of navigators.