‘Navigator’ bill is a ‘political statement’

Effort reflects GOP disdain for Obamacare

By The Mercury

So much for the notion that the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance would redirect legislators’ focus from petty to pertinent legislation in the second half of the 2014 session.

To be fair, lawmakers aren’t ignoring school finance. But neither is that issue getting in the way of partisan-driven legislation such as a bill that would erect unnecessary hurdles for individuals who help consumers wade through the insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

The Kansas Senate today was expected to give final approval to legislation to require health care “navigators” to register with the Kansas attorney general’s office, undergo background checks, be fingerprinted and pay a $100 annual fee. Were consumers not already protected, the bill might be worth legislators’ time.

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook and the committee she chairs, the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, is pushing the bill. Like most Republican legislators, Sen. Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican, has been vehemently opposed to Obamacare. She says this bill provides the vital consumer protection that “the federal government ignored.”

She cited as evidence of consumers’ vulnerability the discovery that there had been an arrest warrant out for a woman working as a navigator in Kansas. The warrant, which has been canceled, was for unpaid debts associated with out-of-pocket medical expenses. The woman’s predicament does more to illustrate the need for health care navigators than it does to prove that they could be a threat to consumers.

Moreover, the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which has trained most of the state’s approximately 170 navigators, already conducts background checks on applicants. That organization and other health care groups have opposed this legislation.

We’re inclined to agree with state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, who said that if the Legislature wanted control over navigators, it should have established a stateoperated marketplace. But a state marketplace was anathema to Kansas Republicans, who, along with congressional Republicans, have worked to undermine the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s bill, which was expected to go to the Kansas House after final Senate approval and eventually become law, is just one modest piece of that larger effort.

Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley called Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s bill “a political statement.,” and added, “It has nothing to do with trying to help health-care consumers.”

He’s right.

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