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Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Parts Of Missouri Navigator Law

Mike Sherry
Heartland Health Monitor

States that opted to use the federal health insurance marketplace instead of establishing one of their own can’t restrict the ability of certified navigators to help consumers, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely affirms an earlier ruling by a federal district court that blocked implementation of a Missouri law.

The decision is a victory for several consumer groups that challenged the Missouri statute.

The court ruled that states that didn’t establish their own insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act can’t preempt federal regulations that authorize navigators to help consumers select coverage.

Neither Missouri nor Kansas established their own marketplaces. Both use healthcare.gov, the marketplace created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The “ruling sends a powerful message not only to Missouri, but to policymakers in other states who are trying to make it difficult for their residents to get information about the health insurance options available under the ACA,” said Jane Perkins, legal director for the National Health Law Program. “The court’s message: Don’t do that.”

In 2014, Kansas legislators opposed to Obamacare almost succeeded in passing a law similar to Missouri’s. The Kansas Senate approved the measure, but opponents stopped it in a House committee.

“If this bill passes as it’s written, navigators and certified application counselors will no longer have the ability to perform their jobs,” said Cathy Harding, then director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, to members of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Harding is now CEO of the Wyandotte Health Foundation.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, was the primary advocate for the navigator bill. She said it was needed to protect consumers, citing an “undercover video” that showed navigators encouraging people to lie about their income and smoking habits to obtain lower premiums.

The Kansas bill also would have required navigators to pay an annual $100 registration, be fingerprinted and disclose their credit histories.

Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat, voted against the bill because she thought it would “keep most people from ever becoming a navigator.”

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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