The online marketplaces, exchanges where consumers can buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, debut today, despite repeated efforts in Tallahassee and Washington to thwart the law. The launch already has faced setbacks, and Florida’s nearly 4 million uninsured don’t need their state government making it more difficult to get coverage.
Yet Gov. Rick Scott still won’t let “navigators,” or outreach counselors, educate and enroll the uninsured at state health departments. The governor has expressed concerns over privacy, noting that navigators will have access to clients’ financial and Social Security information. He is expressing that concern despite a law he signed, which requires that navigators be licensed by the state and pass an FBI background screening. The law also allows insurance agents to work as navigators.
The state has licensed few navigators. Critics suspect yet another attempt by the state to delay enrollment. It’s just as likely due to the Obama administration’s late start training navigators. That’s just one of several delays in implementing the law. The small-business exchanges and the Spanish-language website will not open for online enrollment until November. Applicants may still enroll by phone, mail or fax beginning today.
A Florida Department of Health spokesman said the department will not rescind the ban on navigators despite an announcement by the Obama administration of security measures designed to prevent fraud in the exchanges. Gov. Scott took credit for that development. The Republican Party of Florida touted it as a “win” for the governor on behalf of Floridians.
Then why wouldn’t the governor want Floridians to benefit? By denying navigators’ access to the uninsured at public health departments, the governor is working against people with and without insurance.
The insured pay an estimated $1,000 hidden tax annually for the uninsured. Florida hospitals paid $2.8 billion in charity care last year for treating the uninsured. Because the state has refused to expand Medicaid, hospitals will lose billions more.
Florida hospitals made $10.8 billion in concessions to help pay for the Affordable Care Act, expecting to recoup that money by treating fewer uninsured. Not only will the 1 million Floridians newly eligible for Medicaid go without coverage, so will many of the 3.5 million eligible for coverage through the exchanges who won’t get the help of navigators.
Fortunately, many of South Florida’s uninsured will be immune to the governor’s shortsighted policy. In Palm Beach County, the Health Care District runs public clinics. The district received a $400,000 grant to hire six navigators, who will work in the community and at clinics in Delray Beach, Lantana, West Palm Beach and Belle Glade.
Broward County commissioners defied the ban, noting that the county owns the buildings that house public clinics. The state leases the buildings. The county will allow navigators to do their work. Miami-Dade County is weighing whether to also defy the navigator ban. “From my understanding, it’s just helping people navigate the new laws,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “I don’t see any problems with that.”
Indeed. The biggest problem for Florida’s uninsured are politicians in Tallahassee. They are sure the law will not work, yet they won’t test their theory. How would Florida lose from having fewer uninsured?
for The Post Editorial Board.