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Navigator Fears Called Political 'Hype'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act say Florida officials' concern about a program that will help uninsured people sign up for coverage has no foundation in fact.

There is no danger that so-called "navigators" will steal people's identities or feed information into a giant federal database, said Greg Mellowe, policy director for the consumer group Florida CHAIN. The group is one of the non-profits that will get a share of federal grant money for the "navigator" program.

If the Cabinet had looked at the list of navigator grantees in Florida, "they would have seen that these are very familiar organizations with long track records of service to Floridians, particularly in the areas of promoting the interests of patients as well as outreach and enrollment," Mellowe said. "These are not fly-by-night 'identity thieves' or whatever the implication was."

During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday in Miami, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney Gen. Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater all expressed concern about whether navigators will get the proper background checks and training. (See 'Navigators Too Risky: Cabinet')

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who gave a presentation, said he didn't think it was possible for the navigators to learn enough in the 20 hours of training they will get. Originally, the training time had been scheduled at 30 hours, but was cut in the rush to get ready for the Oct. 1 opening of the online Marketplace.

McCarty recommended that uninsured people seek help from licensed insurance agents instead of navigators.

After the meeting, several supporters of Obamacare said Florida Cabinet officials -- all of whom are Republicans -- were indulging in a bit of political hype and armchair quarterbacking.

Given that the state turned down the chance to create its own exchange and hire its own helpers, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called it "hypocrisy" for state officials to criticize the way the federal government is rolling out the online Marketplace.

"Because of their political obstinance, they forfeited their right to express those concerns," the Weston Democrat said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel

Gov. Rick Scott "has been hell-bent on obstructing the smooth implementation of Obamacare," Wasserman Schultz told the Sentinel. "He's done everything he can to block it and impede its implementation."

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came to Tampato announce $7.8 million in federal grants were going to Florida groups to find the uninsured and help them enroll in the online Marketplace.(See 'Who's In, Who's Out?')

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.