published Friday, September 20th, 2013

Tennessee OKs rules for Obamacare guides

New Health Care Navigator Rules
New Health Care Navigator Rules

A little over a week before uninsured people can start signing up online for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee officials have signed off on rules tightening oversight of the counselors who will help them get coverage.

The rules are "aimed at protecting Tennesseans" who are seeking coverage through the new health insurance marketplace, where people can shop for private coverage starting Oct. 1.

The rules will require "navigators," the federally funded guides, and certified application counselors, the community workers and health care providers also offering guidance, to register with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

"Navigators and certified application counselors will have access to consumers' most personal information, including tax returns, Social Security numbers and health history," said Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. "It is incumbent on us, working to implement the will of the General Assembly, to ensure that individuals who are not of good moral character cannot act as navigators or counselors in this state."

State Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, has called the last-minute rules "obstructionist" and a politically motivated attempt to stall the roll-out of the federal health reform law in Tennessee.

But McPeak said the rules erect a "low barrier to entry" that should not be a hindrance to people and organizations planning to serve as guides.

Annual registration will include a background check, proof that the applicant is at least 18 and assurance that federal training courses have been completed. Navigators and certified application counselors also are prohibited from acting as insurance producers under the rules.

Unlike other GOP-controlled states, Tennessee's navigator don't have to pass tests or pay registration fees.

Enrollment in the online marketplace -- also called the "exchange" -- begins Oct. 1 and ends March 31, 2014. Coverage goes into effect Jan. 1.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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