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Judge Says Missouri Must Pay Legal Fees For Trying To Undermine Part Of Obamacare

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Missouri had prohibited insurance navigators from giving advice about health plans.

Missouri will have to cough up more than $300,000 in attorney's fees after losing a case over a state law barring insurance navigators from giving advice about health plans.

Although he sliced about $128,000 from the bill, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith ruled that Missouri must pay the legal fees of the victorious plaintiffs.

Two years ago, Smith struck down provisions of Missouri’s Health Insurance Marketplace Innovation Act (HIMIA), a law enacted at the behest of insurance agents and brokers. The law prevented navigators from counseling consumers about the benefits, terms and features of health plans offered on the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act.

Navigators are individuals or organizations trained to help consumers understand their health coverage options under the ACA. More than a dozen states, including Missouri, passed laws restricting their activities. The laws were widely seen as an attempt to hobble implementation of the ACA, the signature domestic achievement of President Barack Obama.

The law was challenged by several organizations, including St. Louis Effort for AIDS and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. The plaintiffs were represented by former Missouri Insurance Director Jay Angoff, now an attorney in private practice in Washington, D.C.

Angoff and his team of lawyers submitted a legal bill of $440,515 for their work on the case, but Smith knocked that request down. Angoff typically charges $865 an hour, but based on prevailing rates charged by mid-Missouri attorneys, Smith found that a more reasonable rate for Angoff would be $390 an hour.

Lori Croy, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Insurance, the defendant in the case, said the department would have no comment.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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