Perry’s latest move against Obamacare to obstruct, not protect

Posted Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Despite continued growth in the number of uninsured residents in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has thrown up a roadblock that could interfere with enrolling eligible people in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Insurance plan enrollment is set to begin Oct. 1 under the ACA, commonly called “Obamacare.” Policy coverage is to become effective Jan. 1.

Because Texas has opted out of the national healthcare program — refusing to expand Medicaid or set up a state insurance exchange — the federal government is establishing the marketplace where people can shop for insurance and find out if they are qualified for subsidies or tax breaks based on their economic status.

The government awarded $67 million in grants to various organizations and entities around the nation to hire and train “navigators,” who are to help educate people and get them signed up for the right policies. Texas received almost $11 million, with by far the largest grant ($5.9 million) going to the United Way of Tarrant County as leader of 16 partners throughout the state, including the city of Houston.

The United Way-led group already has hired more than the 75 navigators it had planned and Houston has hired an additional 55 using its own money, said Tim McKinney, president of the organization. Training is underway.

Some Republican governors and members of Congress have been on a mission for months to derail implementation of the ACA. Recently, they have fueled fears that the navigator process will enable unscrupulous people to infiltrate the system and steal enrollees’ personal information.

In that vein, Perry announced this week — just two weeks before insurance plan enrollment is to begin — that he had instructed the Texas Department of Insurance to come up with new rules to regulate the navigators, including requiring them to take an additional 40 hours of training and rigorous testing beyond the federal training.

Because these workers will be soliciting sensitive information from Texans, like their Social Security numbers and birth dates, the Texas Tribune said the governor also wants the insurance department to keep a database of navigators, do background checks and take fingerprints, among other things.

A better way to protect the people of Texas would be to make sure more of them are insured. The latest report from Center for Public Policy shows that almost one in four Texans, or 6.1 million people in the state, were uninsured in 2011. Of those, 1.2 million were children.

More than 415,000 Tarrant County residents, 23 percent, are uninsured, 75,824 of them children.

This looks like nothing more than Perry’s political maneuvering, a demonstration of his obsession with and cynicism regarding Obamacare.

In Tarrant County, the burden he’s adding is unnecessary. United Way already requires more navigator training than the federal government. The consortium already conducts background checks, McKinney said, noting that many of those hired have experience in benefits counseling through service with Medicaid, Medicare and the CHIP program.

In addition, the consortium has privacy and security training using HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) guidelines.

Perry has been obstructive enough with the healthcare plan already.

It will take weeks before the insurance department can implement new rules, said spokesman Ben Gonzalez.

Normal procedures call for stakeholder meetings before there’s an informal draft of the new rules, which must be published in the Texas Register. Then comes a 30-day public comment period before a final draft of the rules, Gonzalez told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

By that time, ACA navigators in Texas will have been at work for weeks helping people get the healthcare coverage they need.

Note: This editorial has been revised to correct the amount of the federal grant awarded to United Way of Tarrant County.

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