Bob Ray Sanders

January 18, 2014

Arrogant Texas leaders invite scrutiny from federal government

Our state, through its top Republican leaders, devised a sinister plan to sabotage the ACA (or Obamacare) and, in doing so, threw up major roadblocks for millions.

It wasn’t enough that Texas refused to set up a state insurance exchange or expand Medicaid under the new Affordable Care Act, causing the federal government to step in and create a marketplace for Texans needing healthcare coverage.

No, this state, through its top Republican leaders, devised a sinister plan to sabotage the ACA (or Obamacare) altogether.

And in doing so, it threw up major roadblocks for millions in this state who are uninsured.

These leaders ought to be ashamed, but I learned a long time ago that (in the words of poet Nikki Giovanni) they ain’t got no shame.

To assist with educating the public about the ACA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $67 million in grants to agencies and other entities to hire “navigators” to guide people through the process, where they could enroll in a plan that was best for them.

The United Way of Tarrant County, an organization whose mission for more than 90 years has been helping people, was a recipient of one of those grants and was chosen as the lead agency of 16 partners around the state that would train the navigators.

Last September, just two weeks before the scheduled rollout for enrollment under the new federal program, Gov. Rick Perry ordered the Texas Department of Insurance to draw up additional rules to regulate the navigators.

Under the guise of protecting Texans’ privacy rights, the TDI developed a set of onerous regulations calling for more than 40 hours of additional training, more extensive background checks that require fingerprinting, licensing of the navigators and bonding for the agencies that hire them.

In addition to the time requirements for the added training, the new rules impose more financial burdens on the individuals and the entities they work for.

Texas Democratic members of Congress, frustrated by this not-so-veiled sham, last week called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “initiate legal proceedings seeking to enjoin and declare invalid regulations proposed by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) that impose arbitrary, burdensome and discriminatory restrictions on Navigators for federal health insurance exchanges.”

In a letter signed by 10 members of the congressional delegation, including Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the representatives said that “it is clear to us that the dominant, indeed exclusive, purpose of the regulations proposed by the TDI is to sabotage and impede the successful implementation of the healthcare law.”

Calling the new rules excessive and unnecessary, the Democrats point out that TDI is requiring far more of navigators than it does for certified benefits counselors who help consumers “navigate” government benefits programs such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and veterans benefits.

In other words, it is rather obvious that the actions by the governor and the TDI are designed as an all-out assault on the healthcare act and have nothing to do with trying to protect Texans.

As the members of Congress point out, there have been 46 failed legislative attempts to repeal or undermine the ACA, and the latest move by Texas maybe is simply a continuation of those efforts.

“Worse,” they say, “these actions are being taken impervious to the harm inflicted on the 22.7 million members of working families in Texas who are eligible to enroll in the health insurance exchange.”

Texas leaders always complain when the Justice Department or the courts get involved in issues of this state, and they see it as undue meddling — unjust interference of their sovereign rights.

But it is their arrogance, and their bullheaded attempts to infringe on the constitutional rights of others, that invites scrutiny and intervention by the federal government.

I don’t know what Holder can or will do in this matter, but I sure hope he does something.

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