The Affordable Care Act’s federal health insurance marketplace opens in Texas tomorrow. Workers known as navigators will help Texans sign up for health insurance. But these navigators are at the center of a political debate in Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry recently directed the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) to come up with more training and regulations for navigators. He based his directive on a new law authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, called Senate Bill 1795.
TDI hosted a public hearing on that directive for more stringent regulation of navigators in downtown Austin today. At the hearing, Jamie Walker, associate commissioner at TDI, announced that the department sent a letter on Sept. 20 to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
It reads that the Department has identified "significant consumer protection" issues stemming from the federal regulation of navigators. That letter was provided to KUT by Texas Impact.
At the hearing, Sen. Watson said a directive for more training wasn't his aim when writing the legislation.
"These provisions were put in place to prevent precisely what I fear may be in motion here today, and that is a politically motivated effort to circumvent federal and state law concerning navigators," Watson said.
SB 1795 allows TDI to work with Washington on improvements to federal standards for Texas navigators if it has concerns. Rev. Leslie Smith has been helping to train navigators in Houston and he came to testify.
"I want to get … uninsured Texans insured, and I’m trying not to be held up," he said. "So I had to let my voice be heard, I had to come down here and speak a word."
When the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow, navigators in Texas will still help people sign up on the health insurance marketplace. TDI has acknowledged to stakeholders, including Texas Impact, it intends to follow the process in SB 1795. But if it does start a formal rule-making process, only then might navigators need to undergo more training.