Dallas Morning: Democrats prod DOJ to block Texas rules on Obamacare navigators
WASHINGTON –Texas Democrats in Congress today slammed proposed state rules requiring extra training for Obamacare navigators, and discussed efforts to overturn the regulations.
Navigators help consumers sign up for health insurance through online exchanges that are a vital part of the Affordable Care Act.
Federal rules already require navigators to have 20 to 30 hours of training. The new rules proposed by the Texas Department of Insurance would add another 40 hours, require criminal background checks, and charge a fee of up to $800 for certification.
Texas Democrats in Congress sent a letter to the Justice Department asking the federal government to strike down the rules, set to go into effect Feb. 1.
In a Jan. 9 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, they called the additional regulations “arbitrary, burdensome, and discriminatory.” The cost of training would lead to fewer navigators available to help consumers, they warned, asserting that the rules were an attempt to sabotage the health care law.
“When you look at these new regulations put on navigators, many which are small community organizations trying to serve the public… it would be a huge burden,” Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth said at a news conference with other Texas Democrats.
Veasey said more than 200,000 people are uninsured in his district, which runs from Dallas to Fort Worth.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said the navigators make $10 to $12 an hour.
“They’re trying to push them out of the market so they won’t be willing to help our constituents,” he said of Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP leaders in Texas. “Why would the state throw up a roadblock to having people covered by some kind of insurance product? We should be a leader, because we have the highest number of uninsured in the country.”
Census data show that 24 percent of Texans are uninsured, the highest percentage of any state.
Texas is one of 17 states that did not set up its own insurance exchanges under the law, requiring residents instead to use the federal system to shop for coverage. The federal government gave local organizations in Texas almost $11 million to hire guides who help consumers through the complex system.
Texas Republicans have expressed serious concerns about privacy in regard to the navigator program. In September, Perry asked TDI for additional regulations. Sen. John Cornyn has also questioned the program, raising concerns about revelations in November by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that convicted felons could possibly become health care guides.
Scrutiny intensified after a video released in December appeared to show three navigators working for the Urban League of Greater Dallas telling consumers to lie about their income and smoking habits when applying for insurance. The video, made by controversial conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, prompted the suspension of the navigators.