By Mike Shields
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — A bill similar to one struck down recently by a federal judge in Missouri was tentatively approved Tuesday by the Kansas Senate.
The proposal would create new requirements for Obamacare navigators, including fingerprinting and background checks.
Republican supporters of the measure said it would protect consumers from identity theft. But Democrats described it as continued GOP political venting against the health reform law.
“This is a political statement. That’s what this is,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. “It has nothing to do with protecting health care consumers. It’s politics pure and simple.
“It’s important we put things in place to protect our Kansas citizens,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican who has been the bill’s main champion in the Legislature. Pilcher-Cook has been one of the Legisalture’s most vocal opponents of the Affordable Care Act since before it became law in 2010.
SB 362 would require the insurance marketplace navigators and their assistants to be certified by the Attorney General’s Office. They would be required to disclose their credit rating and pay a $100 registration fee each year.
It would forbid navigators from offering “advice about which health insurance plan is better or worse for a particular individual or employer.”
And the bill would permit anyone to file a complaint against a navigator. The complaint would be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office or referred to a district attorney, but the navigator would be required to pay the costs of the investigation.
The measure was opposed by various health care consumer and provider groups, including the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which represents the state’s safety net clinics.
The bill’s main supporter was Americans for Prosperity, a political action group that has spent millions fighting Obamacare.
There are more than 200 navigators working across the state, mostly thanks to federal grants that paid for their recruitment and training.
The federal judge in Missouri issued an injunction in January halting implementation of that state’s navigator restrictions.
“Missouri has opted not to be in the health insurance exchange business,” U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith wrote in his opinion. “Having made the choice to leave the operation of the exchange to the federal government, Missouri cannot choose to impose additional requirement or limitations on the exchange.”
Kansas also opted not to run its own health insurance exchange, defaulting to the one operated by the federal government.
Senators are expected to take final action on the proposal on Wednesday, so it could then be sent to the House for consideration.
“We’ll learn more tomorrow when the final action is taken. We’re hopeful that members of the Senate will work to be informed and make a sound decision,” said Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.
Harding said concerns about navigators getting access to individual information and potential identity theft were overblown.
“If you go into a retail store and fill out a credit card application and hand it over to the teenager that’s working there you’re providing them with more information than our navigators have access to and people do that every day,” Harding said.