A Tampa lawmaker has proposed a federal bill that would restore millions of dollars in funding taken from a group that helps sign people up for health insurance.
More than 1.7 million Floridians, more than any other state, signed up for a healthcare.gov policy last year - often with the help of a marketplace navigator. And the University of South Florida has consistently won the largest navigator grants in the country over the years.
But those navigators had their funding slashed by 81 percent last year from $6.5 million to $1.2 million in Florida.
"This really doesn't make sense. Our navigators are the ones who go into rural areas, go into communities that don't speak English, explain all of the options,” said Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor. “They don't work for a particular insurance company. They work for you."
Now, Castor is promoting a bill that would restore this funding.
She said the ENROLL Act would give millions of dollars back to navigator programs like the one at USF.
"We're going to make sure that our navigators stay on the beat providing that independent, free advice to families all across the country,” Castor said.
Jodi Ray, Director of Florida Covering Kids & Families, pointed out that navigators are not seasonal workers.
“Many people would not know what picking a provider means without us on the ground. Most individuals would not have a place to go find out why they may have just lost their tax credits and why their premiums doubled without people they trust like health care navigators,” Ray said. “They would not know how to navigate the multiple networks they have when their children are in CHIP ones, and Medicaid and maybe somebody’s in the marketplace.”
Castor said the bill to restore navigator funding would work in tandem with another proposal that would outlaw limited, short-term insurance plans that don't cover things like hospital visits or maternity care.
“The other problem with these junk plans that HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Alex) Azar admitted to me last week is the fact that they allow insurance companies to discriminate for a preexisting condition like cancer, asthma, diabetes,” Castor said. “He admits that these short-term junk plans do discriminate.”
“Even though the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress try to eliminate that protection for preexisting conditions, it remains the law of the land. It is still the law in America that insurance companies cannot discriminate against you if you have a preexisting condition. But they are working in opposite of that right now by allowing and encouraging issuance of these junk plans," Castor said.
Castor admitted that both of these bills passing the House and Senate to land on President Donald Trump’s desk for signing is “probably unlikely,” but that it would “highlight the Trump administration’s sabotage of the Affordable Care Act” and “set the table for action in the coming years.”