Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade weighs Gov. Rick Scott’s Obamacare ‘navigators’ ban

Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest county and the one with the largest number of uninsured, is making plans to join Broward and defy Gov. Rick Scott’s decision banning Obamacare coordinators from operating at local health departments.

Miami-Dade’s mayor and commissioners began weighing the decision Tuesday as Broward County voted overwhelmingly to allow the so-called “navigators” at health departments to spread the word about, and sign people up for, new Affordable Healthcare Act plans that could come online Oct. 1.

“We welcome the federal government doing that,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “From my understanding, it’s just helping people navigate the new laws. I don’t see any problems with that.”

Gimenez, a Republican like Scott, and Broward’s Democratic mayor, Kristin Jacobs, said they don’t share the governor’s concerns that the navigators would compromise people’s personal information.

“My concern is really about privacy. Taking personal information and sharing it,” Scott said last week. “They ought to tell us what they are going to do.”

Unlike Broward, Miami-Dade’s 13-member commission is majority Republican, though the board and mayor serve in nonpartisan posts. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Miami-Dade.

Also, unlike Broward — where the county owns most of the health-department buildings — there’s uncertainty in Miami-Dade over the ownership of facilities operated by the local health department.

It’s a crucial question because the state has a harder time dictating what happens on premises if it doesn’t own the buildings.

According to the state health department, the county owns five of the local 23 health department buildings, the state owns one and the rest are leased. So it’s unclear just how many of the buildings the navigators could work at if the Miami-Dade commission approved.

Miami-Dade County administrators said they were trying to determine what the county could do.

Pinellas County in Tampa Bay was the first to take advantage of the ownership issue and refused the order from the Florida Department of Health, an agency under Scott’s direction.

Health insurance is a major issue in Florida and particularly in Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade has Florida’s largest number of uninsured residents younger than 65 — 744,000 — in a state with the nation’s second-highest rate of the uninsured: nearly 25 percent. Miami-Dade’s uninsured rate: 34.4 percent. Broward’s rate is 26 percent — about 392,000 people.

Two Republican Miami-Dade commissioners — Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Juan C. Zapata — said they had no problem with the navigators on county property.

“We have an obligation to our residents to supply that information,” Bovo said. “I don’t think we should act in a partisan way on this issue.”

Bovo’s comments are particularly noteworthy because he is a strong backer of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a leading national Obamacare opponent.

In Broward County, the lone No vote in the 8-1 decision Tuesday was cast by the commission’s only Republican, Chip LaMarca.

Mayor Jacobs used the vote to assail Scott and accuse him of using bogus excuses to try to scuttle the Affordable Care Act, which she abbreviated as ACA.

“He has demonstrated his attempt to obstruct the implementation of the ACA and has even gone so far as to put up roadblocks to prevent the sharing of information,” Jacobs said, referencing a law Scott signed that prohibits state insurance regulators from examining the rates of new Obamacare health plans for two years.

Under Broward’s plan, those seeking Obamacare information or insurance can go to seven health department offices as well as county libraries.

Asked if she’s concerned Scott will fight Broward, Jacobs responded: “My attitude is… Bring it on.”

WLRN-Miami Herald news reporter Rick Stone contributed to this report.

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