A bill that would add restrictions for the application counselors who help people enroll in health coverage through the new federal marketplace in Kansas has been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Senate Bill 362 would require Kansas' health insurance "navigators" to be certified by the attorney general's office after undergoing a criminal background check and credit check. The navigators would be finger printed and required to pay initial and annual fees to do their work.
The bill also would forbid navigators from offering "advice about which health insurance plan is better or worse for a particular individual or employer."
The bill was introduced by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee and chair of the health committee. She has been one of the Legislature's more vocal and persistent opponents of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
She said the bill was spurred by national news reports in October that a navigator in Kansas had an outstanding bench warrant.
"It was discovered that there was a navigator in Kansas who had a warrant out for her arrest. Shortly after that, I sent out a press release saying I would be working on a bill," Pilcher-Cook said.
Rosilyn Wells, an outreach worker at the Heartland Community Health Center in Lawrence, was issued the bench warrant by a Shawnee County District Court for failure to pay more than $5,000 in medical debts.
Pilcher-Cook's proposal is similar to one recently blocked by a federal court in Missouri.
Tim Jost, a national expert on the Affordable Care Act, wrote in his blog that the Jan. 23 Missouri ruling was a "major victory for the ACA," undermining similar laws passed in at least 17 states:
The laws "conflict directly with the federal law requirement that navigators 'distribute fair and impartial information' about health plans. The court held that providing information is indistinguishable from providing advice."
Pilcher-Cook said she thought her bill could survive a legal challenge.
"Our Kansas bill is significantly different than the Missouri law," she said.
The fiscal note attached to the bill by legislative researchers reported that defending the bill — should it be passed into law — could cost the state as much as $75,000.
Jay Angoff — a former regional director for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department now in private practice with the Washington D.C.-based law firm of Mehri and Skalet — was part of the legal team that successfully challenged the Missouri law.
"What's unusual and I think unprecedented about the Kansas bill is that, unlike all the other states' bills, it would give the attorney general — not the commissioner of insurance — the authority to regulate and penalize navigators," Angoff said.
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