Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ALEC Hopes to Block the Affordable Care Act by Damming the Flow of Navigators

ACA Insurance Navigators Find Dams on the Streams of Information, Thanks to ALEC

Mother was fond of saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” when she caught herself being hypocritical. Would that ALEC and its members, in all their various committees and public incarnations, would catch themselves, or better, that the public would catch them and call them out for their hypocrisy.

Alas, it appears that ALEC is indeed hypocritical and the public has yet to catch on. ALEC continues to propose model legislation, sometimes in direct opposition to other proposals from the same parent group. These proposals are fill-in-the-blank drafts so that legislators do not have to fret over language or policy. All they need do is cut and paste.

This is exactly the case for the ALEC-designed and drafted Navigator Background Check Act. ALEC wants to be sure that Affordable Care Act (ACA) navigators are properly certified through training even though the ACA already requires training and another piece of legislation offered by ALEC tries to eliminate training requirements. The real goal, it seems, is to thwart the ACA, especially if some component of the law endangers complete Corporate control and thereby profits.

In response and as a result of Chicken-Little warnings from ALEC, health insurance lobbyists, and Conservative Think Tanks such as The Heritage Foundation, State legislatures have erected dams to slow the flow of health care to millions, especially by refusing to expand Medicaid, but also by blocking health care information through the use of navigators. Some states have and continue to impose restrictions upon navigators, the descriptive title for individuals who have completed federally mandated training in order to help citizens explore their options for health care and insurance coverage.

First, nine states completely blocked navigators, thereby making it more difficult for their citizens to learn if they were eligible for federal support, what health care policies might best suit their needs, or even what the ACA provides for citizens. As a consequence, the U. S. Health and Human Services (HHS) has found it necessary to push back against such state opposition.

The purported industry fear is that navigators will encourage applicants to enroll in one program over another, functioning more like a stockbroker who prefers and sells one stock instead of another. The intent of the ACA navigator (and in-person assister as well as certified application counselor), on the other hand, is simply to help applicants understand their health care options just as someone on the other end of the phone or electronic message at the IRS exists to help citizens navigate a complex web of policies, regulation, and language.

Second, some states have imposed additional restrictions on potential navigators. Texas, for example, has finalized regulations as follows: “The rules require navigators to receive 20 hours of state-specific training in addition to the federal requirement of 20 to 30 hours of training, to undergo background checks, and to provide proof of identity. The rules also prohibit navigators from charging consumers, selling or negotiating health insurance coverage, recommending a specific health plan, or engaging in electioneering activities or otherwise supporting a candidate running for a political office.” As is apparent, Texas increases the training component for navigators and imposes restrictions on them to remain neutral even requiring them not to let it be known for which candidate they might vote by wearing poster buttons, displaying signs, or declaring political leanings.

Georgia, well-versed in dictating who can attend its universities, has now dictated what programs its university may provide with GA HB 943, also approved by the Georgia Senate. This bill “… bar[s] any state or local governments, agencies or employees from advocating for Medicaid expansion, except under certain circumstances, or from creating a health insurance exchange. It also would bar the University of Georgia and any other state organizations from running health insurance navigator programs to help Georgia consumers buy insurance on the federally run Health Insurance Marketplace.” In other words, the GA bill strangles Georgia’s right to free speech by prohibiting what certain citizens may say and reveal.

ALEC, the GOP, and the Tea Party stand on principles, one of which is less government in the form of oversight and regulation. The Navigator Background Check Act is hypocritical to this principle because it seeks to impose redundant training and regulate the existence and work of ACA navigators.

At least two states, Texas and Georgia, have demonstrated that more oversight and regulation is in order if the party in power opposes the law of the land, in this case, the Affordable Care Act. Content researchers have noted that some of the additional hours required for training navigators duplicate federal training content instead of adding anything unique to the region or the training. Worse, blocking and restricting navigators has the net effect of granting advantages to citizens in states that chose to expand Medicaid and have not blocked or impeded assistance from navigators. In other words, blocking or restricting navigators guarantees that some will not enjoy health care options that citizens in other states will have, and this effect is antithetical to Constitutional guarantees.

Encouraging such rogue state-action with model legislation including the Navigator Background Check Act perpetuates unequal health care opportunities and delivery because some people will not be aware of their rights, the policies, or the costs of health care available to them. States simply cannot claim the authority or even the higher ground when their laws protect business interests and insurance companies at the expense and hardship of consumers. Worse, while lamenting the intrusion of BIG government, ALEC, through this bill and State reactions to it, creates BIG government oversight.

The U. S. simply does not need unnecessary, redundant checkpoints in order to provide for the common good. States and ALEC should uphold the law of the land, at least by allowing citizens to become informed about opportunities available to them.