Not content to turn away federal funds to expand Medicaid in Florida, state officials stepped up their fight against the Affordable Care Act this week by literally shutting the door on federally paid workers who can help the public figure out how to take advantage of the reform act’s benefits.
Deputy Health Secretary C. Meade Grigg on Monday ordered the 60 healthcare department directors across the state not to allow the outreach assistants known as “navigators” to assist the public at health department sites. The order amounts to an escalation of the state’s efforts to cripple implementation of the healthcare reform act. The latest action seems to say that not only will the state not cooperate, it will actively seek ways to undermine effective assistance to its own residents.
This outrageous and spiteful action will not prevent those who need help with healthcare insurance from getting it, but it will make it harder for them to do so. It represents a unilateral and shameful denial of service by the state to its own citizens.
The order was issued just days after a national study found that nearly 1 million Floridians — 995,000 — will fall into the Medicaid coverage gap because the state declined to accept federal funds totaling $51 billion over the next decade. Instead of provoking a compassionate reaction from state leaders, as it should, the disclosure only led to Mr. Grigg’s throw-’em-out order. How’s that for rubbing salt into the wound?
A spokesperson for Mr. Grigg said the order was motivated by a need for “clarity” and the desire to send “a consistent message” across the agency. She also raised privacy concerns because some consumer information gathered by the navigators may wind up in a federal database.
It strains credulity to believe that privacy is a practical concern.
In the first place, virtually all Americans — anyone who contributes to Social Security, pays taxes to the IRS, is a veteran of the armed forces or otherwise has any contact with the federal government — is already in a federal database of one sort or another without privacy becoming a serious concern. More to the point, U.S. Health and Human Services officials have stated unequivocally that “consumers will never be asked to provide their personal health information to the (insurance) Marketplace, whether through a Navigator or not.”
In Florida, which declined to set up its own “marketplace,” the navigator program is funded by $7.8 million in federal grants to help the public understand how healthcare reform works and how it can be used to obtain health insurance. Because an estimated 3.8 million Floridians currently have no such insurance, the navigators already faced a significant challenge.
The latest hurdle thrown up by the state will make it harder for information providers to reach the uninsured, but not impossible. They will have to work harder to seek out Florida residents who need help, instead of having those in need of assistance come to them at health departments.
The navigators have to be ready by Oct. 1, when the federally operated online marketplace for Florida is scheduled to open so that coverage can go into effect at the beginning of the year.
Gov. Rick Scott, who once said he favored accepting federal funds for Medicaid expansion — though the Legislature failed to act — should countermand Mr. Grigg’s directive if he sincerely wants to help the people of Florida. The state should be helping them to enroll in healthcare coverage instead of standing in their way.