State tells ‘navigators’ to stay away from county health departments


Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

The outreach workers known as navigators won’t be allowed to help people sign up for health insurance on the grounds of county health departments, according to a memo from the Florida Department of Health.

The order from Deputy Health Secretary C. Meade Grigg went out late Monday to the 60 local health department directors across the state.

Grigg declined to comment on the directive. But health department spokeswoman Ashley Carr said there was a need for “clarity” and “a consistent message” across the agency.

“Navigators are not acting on behalf of the Department of Health and this program has raised privacy concerns due to the consumer information that will be gathered for use in a federal database,” Carr wrote in a statement.

Health and Human Services Department spokesman Fabien Levy called the Florida directive “another blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years.”

He added that “despite the state’s attempts, we are confident that navigators will still be able to help Floridians enroll” in health insurance plans.

The move represents the latest hurdle to the new health insurance marketplace, which opens in Florida on Oct. 1. Earlier in the year, state lawmakers declined to expand Medicaid, and passed a proposal prohibiting the state insurance commissioner from regulating insurance premiums.

State leaders have also been pushing the privacy issue.

At a Cabinet meeting in August, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty expressed concerns that the Obama administration would amass a huge databank of Americans’ health information. They also worried the navigators might steal personal information.

“It remains to be seen whether the information that people will provide to give navigators assistance is safe,” McCarty said. “The information given by applicants will be shared by the Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service.”

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has said consumers would never be asked to provide their personal health information to the marketplace.

The prohibition on navigators in county health departments drew criticism Wednesday.

Retired Pasco County Health Director Marc Yacht said the move would “significantly compromise a multitude of needy Floridians from getting critical health care.” He called it “cruel and irresponsible.”

Jeremy Funk of Americans United for Change, a national group supporting the Affordable Care Act, said Grigg compromised the mission of the state health department “when he banished from the Florida health department premises the people who have been tapped by the federal government to help uninsured Floridians navigate the new health law and the benefits available to them.”

“Grigg should know better than most that thousands of people die every year because they didn’t have insurance, so why is he standing in the way of Floridians enrolling in a plan?” he added.

Both the Miami-Dade and Broward health departments declined to comment.

The navigator program in Florida is being funded by $7.8 million in federal grants, of which $4.2 million went to the Covering Kids & Families Program at the University of South Florida. The university will be disbursing the money to 10 organizations around the state that will hire, train and supervise the outreach workers.

Judy Clauser, of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, a Doral-based group that received a $637,686 federal navigator grant, said she was surprised to learn outreach workers would be kept out of county health departments.

“I don’t think it will keep us from doing our work,” she said. “We’re partnering with community organizations like Catalyst Miami and Sant La in Little Haiti to reach the uninsured where they live.”

Even if state officials were making it easy, the navigators face a huge challenge in Florida, where 3.8 million people are uninsured. Navigators are still being hired and trained. They must pass an exam, and then go through state-required criminal background checks.

The outreach workers have less than a month until the federally operated online marketplace for Florida is scheduled to open. The marketplace was created to provide comparison shopping and subsidized coverage for uninsured people who don’t receive it in the workplace or from another source. Some states elected to create and run their own marketplace.

The plans and prices that will be available in Florida have not yet been made public. Coverage could go into effect as soon as Jan. 1.

Carol Gentry is founder and editor of Health News Florida. Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report. This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.”

Read more Healthcare Reform stories from the Miami Herald

  • Power of Price

    Patients take on more of healthcare costs, but struggle to find prices

    Health plans with high out-of-pocket costs are pushing consumers to price shop for healthcare. But prices can be hard to find before a procedure, and most patients don’t find them until the hospital bill arrives.

  • Power of Price

    Power of Price: A glossary of healthcare terms

    As if healthcare pricing wasn’t complex enough, try talking about it without running into some conversation-stopping jargon. Words that mean one thing to the rest of the English-speaking world can mean something completely different in healthcare — like a “charge” that isn’t the same as the price.

  • Power of Price

    Healthcare prices: Many moving parts veiled by confidentiality agreements

    The price of a medical procedure can vary greatly for consumers and their employers, depending on the hospital’s operating costs, the patient’s condition, and even who’s paying and how.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category