COLUMBIA - Mid-Missourians are in the process of signing up for health care insurance through the President's Health Care Act, but a Missouri law restricts the help they can receive in the process.
The President's new Health Care Act requires states to have federally contracted one-on-one counselors to give assistance, educate and reach out to those signing up for coverage. These counselors are called navigators.
The only federal requirement for a person to become a certified navigator is to take a 20-hour course online. In Missouri, however, there are tougher requirements a person must go through. Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 262 in July. The law requires all potential navigators to not only obtain a federal certification, but also receive a state license. In order to receive a state license, navigators must pass an exam and pay a licensing fee up to 50 dollars.
The law also restricts navigators from offering any advice to insurance shoppers. They are only allowed to give information about coverage options, rather than suggest what plans might be best for a person. Missouri is one of eight states to enforce these rules.
Jay Angoff is an attorney in Washington D.C. and represents health care interests of the White House. He's a former Missouri insurance commissioner and was directly involved in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Angoff said the Missouri law handcuffs the help that navigators can offer.
"Approximately a dozen states have enacted legislation that establishes burdensome requirements that effectively prevent many of the organizations designated in the statute from being navigators, and prevents navigators from carrying out the duties the Affordable Care Act requires them to carry out even if they overcome these burdens," Angoff said.
Missouri Republican Party Director of Communications, Matt Wills, thinks Missouri legal restrictions help consumers.
"I think the perspective is there that my privacy is being protected, I'm, as a person, being put first and foremost here, and not just being another number in another insurance company," Wills said. "I think that anytime that people are put ahead of bureaucracy, that's a good thing. I think this is a step in the right direction as to understanding that people come first."
The two main organizations in mid-Missouri that offer navigator services are Primaris and the Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
"We're asking people if they are finished with the federal training, reach out to your local community organizations, local non-profits, and see if you can schedule an education event," said Primaris Navigator Program Manager Jeremy Milarsky. "Most people have a lot of questions about this new law, and we're here to help with that."
There is no cost for a counsel session and navigators are prohibited from charging the public for their services. Milarsky said Primaris hasn't been extremely busy so far, and that might be due to the glitches on the federal website. He suggests consumers wait a while to sign up for insurance in order to avoid any issues.
"It's important to realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint and the open enrollment period is a six month period," said Milarsky. "We can help answer questions, we can explain the Affordable Care Act to people. We can explain how to work with the marketplace."
For a list of specific state requirements to become a navigator, visit the Missouri Department of Insurance's website.