Texas to Impose Tougher Rules on Obamacare Navigators

Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 01:26 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Texas Department of Insurance wants Obamacare "navigators" in the state to pass a 64-page set of standards in order to be licensed to help residents sign up for healthcare coverage.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Juli Rathgeber proposed Tuesday that navigators prove their citizenship or employment eligibility, undergo background checks, and show financial responsibility, reports The Washington Post.

"In Texas, we are being vigilant about safeguarding privacy and keeping personal information out of the wrong hands," said Rathgeber. "These proposed rules address insufficiencies in federal regulations and make the training and qualifications of navigators in our state more readily apparent to consumers and service providers.”

The proposed rules also would make prospective navigators go through 40 hours of coursework to learn more about the state's Medicaid and privacy standards and to show proof of training. The state also want to ensure that navigators are not permitted to charge for services or push any specific insurance plans.

In addition, the Texas proposal would prohibit navigators from offering advice on benefits or from comparing different plans for consumers.

A public hearing will be held on Dec. 20, and the rules will go into effect after a public commentary period ends on Jan. 6. The Post reports that Texas has about 200 navigators who are primarily charged with helping the uninsured enroll in Obamacare.

The Obama administration and supporters of the healthcare law said the state's proposals would only increase costs and slow down the application process for insurance coverage. They all but accused Texas officials of simply trying disrupt the federal effort to help the uninsured.

"This is an attempt to add cumbersome requirements to the navigator program and deter groups from working to enroll Americans in coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace," Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told the Post. "The navigator program is similar to Medicare counselors, which have existed for years and never faced this kind of scrutiny from Texas."

Under federal law, navigators already go through training on various health plans, privacy and security standards, as well as Obamacare eligibility requirements. But at least 16 states, including Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia, have enacted additional requirements and regulations governing how Obamacare navigators do their jobs.

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