While the Republican fight to defund Obamacare continues on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders in Florida and a handful of other states are complicating enrollment efforts in the healthcare law and restricting information about it to the public, a tactic that angers the Obama administration.
Resistance is particularly strong in Florida, reports The New York Times
, where conservative legislators and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, an outspoken foe of Obamacare, are using privacy issues and other measures to make it more difficult for residents to obtain affordable insurance plans through the state insurance exchange or get help from outreach counselors, known as navigators.
For example, the Florida legislature this year passed a bill that will keep the state insurance commissioner from being able to approve insurance rates for new health plans until 2016. This will leave Florida residents more vulnerable to higher rates, critics say, and does nothing to help the uninsured in the state, which has the second highest rate in the country of residents without health insurance.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday finished a three-city visit to Florida, where she called the state's restrictions on navigators "unfortunate" and complained that "keeping information from people seems to be something of a pattern here in the state."
Florida legislators also moved this year to block $50 billion in federal money for the expansion of Medicaid, even though Scott had decided to accept it. The state also chose not to participate in the healthcare exchange marketplace, which is now being set up by the federal government.
In addition, last week, county health facilities were ordered not to allow navigators or outreach counselors to conduct meetings with consumers or any other business on state property. The state health department cited established policy that prohibits outside groups from using county health property for non-state business as an excuse of the action.
The move further complicated the work of counselors because the Obamacare enrollment efforts counts on using state or local health offices to reach potential insurance applicants who are poor and uninsured.
Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi have also public suggested that navigators could use applicant information improperly, which could lead to identity theft. In a recent letter, Scott asked congressional leaders from both parties to "'thoroughly review what privacy rules and safeguards are in place," because "Floridians should not have to exchange their privacy for insurance."
Other Red states, including Ohio, Missouri, and Georgia, are also fighting against the looming implementation of Obamacare, which is scheduled to start Oct 1 with open enrollments.
Missouri is requiring that navigators be licensed, and is restricting their activitivies. Without a license, they are not permitted to provide benefit advice or advise people on which plans might be better for them.
In Georgia, Insurance Commissioner Ralph T. Hudgens has pledged to do “everything in our power to be an obstructionist" to the healthcare law. The state is requiring that navigators undergo a criminal background check, including fingerprinting, before being allowed to work.
Democrats say all the efforts are aimed at killing Obamacare in the field because Republican efforts in Congress to defund or repeal it have failed.
"They couldn’t beat Obamacare in Congress, where they’ve tried 41 times to repeal it, they couldn’t beat it in the Supreme Court, so they are trying death by a thousand cuts,” Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, told the Times.
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