Let Helpers Help the Uninsured

A recent letter from Governor Perry directs the Texas Department of Insurance to place unwarranted restrictions on navigators, many of which would violate state and/or federal law. Navigators are people and groups trained and certified to provide in-person assistance to Texans learning about their health care options and enrolling in the new health care marketplace.  Eight organizations in Texas are in the process of receiving their navigator training and certification to help Texans enroll in health plans.

This letter is yet another politically motivated effort to derail ACA implementation in Texas, and keep low-income and middle-class Texans from getting enrolled in new, more affordable coverage starting in October.

Navigators will help uninsured Texans get enrolled, and their role is vital. With 6 million uninsured Texans, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to enrollment starting in October. Navigators will fill a critical need by providing knowledgeable in-person assistance through familiar and trusted community groups, to help people apply and sort through new coverage options.

Navigator-type programs are a tried-and-true concept that haven’t stirred controversy in the past.  In Medicare, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (the Health Information, Counseling and Advocacy Program or HICAP in Texas) has been in place assisting seniors for more than two decades. And community partners who assist with outreach and enrollment have been a key part of covering children in Texas Medicaid and CHIP.

Our state has a long, successful history of partnering with informed community-based groups to help people enroll in health insurance like Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare.  Just as there are protections in place for our existing assistance providers, our new navigators will be subject to thorough training, certification and oversight.

  • Navigators will offer knowledgeable, in-person assistance to consumers and small employers and help them learn about their coverage options in Texas. Selected to also assist with outreach to underserved groups, the navigators include United Way organizations in El Paso and Tarrant County, the East Texas Behavioral Health Network, Migrant Health Promotion in the Rio Grande Valley, the Urban League and others.
  • Demand for navigators is high, and the law takes their role seriously. In national polls, 75 percent of people who would be eligible for coverage in the marketplace indicated interest in receiving in-person assistance to learn about and enroll in coverage.
  • The Affordable Care Act puts rigorous training and oversight standards in place for navigators.
  • Federal rules for navigators address privacy directly and prohibit the use of consumers’ personal accounts or information without the consumer’s involvement.

What has worked for Texas seniors and families with children can also be effective for Texans learning about their coverage from navigators. Texans will be able to locate these trained and certified authorized assistance providers listed on www.healthcare.gov when seeking help with enrollment. Groups awarded grants were subjected to screening as part of the grant application process to ensure they meet standards, and all individuals authorized to assist with Texans’ enrollment in the marketplace will have to meet standards and receive training and certification that includes privacy and security standards.

As Texas Well and Healthy partner Katrina Mendiola, the executive director of Engage Texas, said in a press release: “Officials keep trying to sow doubt about the Affordable Care Act, but the law is well on its way to helping millions of our nation’s uninsured receive the health care they need. What Texans need to know is there will be experts—who are screened and authorized to help—ready to help them find out about their health care options and get enrolled on October 1.”

– Texas Well and Healthy Campaign staff report