published Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Rep. JoAnne Favors calls new rules for Obamacare navigators 'obstructionist'

  • photo
    JoAnne Favors stands in the Times Free Press photo studio during a portrait session. Photo taken Jan. 16, 2009.
    Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A Tennessee lawmaker is crying foul over emergency rules being drafted by the state to bring more scrutiny to the guides helping people sign up for new insurance under Obamacare, saying the rules are a last-minute attempt to obstruct the health law in the state.

But state officials say the rules, proposed weeks before new insurance marketplaces go live, are crucial to protect consumers from “bad actors” who may try to abuse the law to access people’s medical information.

Under the proposed rules, “navigators” — state-approved guides trained to sign people up for private health insurance through new federally-run online marketplaces — will have to go through a registration process that will include a criminal background check and a $35 fee, according to the state Department of Commerce and Insurance, which drafted the rules.

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, says the new registration requirements are another political maneuver to block the implementation of the new health law in Tennessee,

“This is just another obstacle in trying to get people signed up on insurance,” she said. “[Gov. Bill Haslam] has already chosen not to expand Medicaid. He already rejected running a state exchange. Why on earth do they have to do this now? I am sick about it.”

State officials say the proposed rules for are a necessary part of their “due diligence” to protect consumers.

“These individuals are going to be in our communities, acquiring sensitive information,” said Katelyn Abernathy, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which has drafted the emergency rules. “It would be very remiss of the state government to not protect our consumers. …This is very low barrier registration process.”

Other Republican-leaning states have demanded closer scrutiny of these Affordable Care Act workers.

Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens has said he will require navigators to pass a test that is basically the same as an insurance broker’s test —even though federal law says navigators are not brokers.

Hudgens told a group of Republicans earlier in August that his office was doing “everything in our power to be an obstructionist,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

There will be no test included in Tennessee’s requirements, Abernathy said.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Tennessee’s proposed rules are “not some kind of an attempt to stop the Affordable Care Act from coming in.”

“It’s just the state taking care of its responsibilities to protect our citizens,” he said. “Certainly anyone who’s looking at confidential health records and tax returns should at least be able to pass a background check.”

But Favors said it will stall new insurance enrollment at a time “when people are very anxious to enroll,” she said.

Abernathy said that so far, all the navigator groups the department has worked with have been on board with the new requirements.

The rules are currently being drafted and reviewed and will need to be approved by the attorney general’s office, said Abernathy.

For more read Friday's Times Free Press.

Reporting contributed by staff writer Andy Sher.

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