Tablet Opinion

New Texas rules for healthcare navigators better than those first proposed

The Texas Department of Insurance has fulfilled Gov. Rick Perry’s charge to develop new rules for healthcare navigators, individuals hired to assist people in enrolling in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

But the TDI’s regulations, announced Tuesday by Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber, were far less onerous than those originally proposed by the department, which were regarded by many as nothing more than unnecessary, politically motivated roadblocks to the federal healthcare plan.

As initially outlined, the rules would have required an additional 40 hours of training for each navigator (beyond the 20- to 30-hour federal requirement), extended background checks and registration with the state at a fee of $50. Each local agency hiring the navigators, such as United Way of Tarrant County, would have been required to provide evidence of “financial responsibility” against legal liability.

The final document from the TDI, which fully acknowledges the input from healthcare advocates and some legislators during two public hearings, reduces the state training hours to 20 and eliminates the $50 registration fee for navigators, greatly decreasing the financial burden that the agencies and the individuals would bear.

“Based on what they were preparing earlier, I commend the Texas Department of Insurance for what they did,” United Way CEO Tim McKinney told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board. “They should be commended for listening to the public’s input. It made a difference.”

McKinney, who testified at one of the hearings, notes that because the new rules also allow the agencies that hire navigators to develop their own training courses (to be certified by TDI), the additional cost will be negligible.

Many of the requirements under the rules — prohibiting navigators from charging consumers, recommending a specific health plan or electioneering, for example — were already part of the local agencies’ policies.

Since last September, when the governor requested the new regulations just weeks before the October rollout of the ACA, the process has been time-consuming, confusing and terribly frustrating for those trying to help people.

It is to the TDI’s credit that it managed to satisfy the governor’s goal of poking the Obama administration while finding a way to allow the enrollment to continue under Obamacare with far less intrusion from the state.