Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

State errs in obstructing Affordable Care Act

As the date for implementation of the Affordable Care Act draws near, Americans across the country are receiving useful information from state governments to help them understand how the new law works and how to get the maximum benefit out of it. For example:

• In Connecticut this month, beachgoers will be handed packets of sunscreen printed with “Get Covered” and the logo and website for Access Health CT, the state’s health-insurance exchange.

• In Colorado, TV commercials tell the public how to obtain coverage through the state’s new insurance market, helping to eliminate the anxiety and confusion that usually accompany a major change of this kind.

The state’s insurance exchange has received about $180 million in federal money to be up and running by Oct. 1 and to cover the first year’s operating costs. It expects to spend $21 million on marketing and advertising.

• In Nevada, a $2.8 million campaign that includes spots on TV, radio, billboards, newspapers and social media is making sure that the state’s residents are ready for enrollment and coverage.

These aggressive efforts to help residents cope with the new law are fully backed by the respective state governments, but in Florida it’s a different story.

Health centers in this state have been awarded some $8 million for outreach and enrollment assistance, no thanks to state government, which refused to set up its own exchange and is doing nothing to help administer the new law in any visible way.

Furthermore, not content to just sit on their hands, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are going out of their way to throw a monkey wrench into the process.

Last week, they raised phony questions about privacy protection involving the “navigators” who will educate consumers about the new healthcare options and walk them through the enrollment process. This is nonsense. The navigators must comply with privacy and security standards and will not obtain consumers’ information without their consent.

Why is the Cabinet suddenly taking an interest in the welfare of health-insurance consumers? If the state cared at all, it would have set up its own insurance exchange and backed the effort to the hilt. Instead, it refused.

The latest questions seem to be part of a larger effort by Gov. Scott and like-minded political allies to obstruct the process at every turn.

There have been sins of omission, such as refusing to help set up exchanges or get the word out to consumers. A number of private groups across the state, including unions, business associations and medical and hospital professionals are actively involved — but not the state Department of Health or the Office of Insurance Regulation.

And there have been sins of commission, as well. The worst was the Cabinet’s decision to forgo the right to regulate rates for plans listed on the health exchange. With the state bowing out, the federal government may wrongly get the blame for higher premiums, even though it has no authority to deny rate increases.

The campaign against the Affordable Care Act by Gov. Scott and his Republican colleagues is a major disservice to the people of Florida, particularly the estimated 3.5 million uninsured residents who could take advantage of the insurance exchanges.

Some 60 percent of them live in South Florida. They are our friends and neighbors. They will benefit from expanded health-insurance coverage, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but their state government has let them down.

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