Pa. lawmaker proposes state vet federally appointed health-care navigators

    The federal government gets to pick — and pay — the health-care navigators for Pennsylvania, but Schuylkill County Republican Rep. Mike Tobash says the commonwealth should vet them.


    In states where federal — not state — officials are setting up the new health insurance marketplaces, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will pick two groups to serve as on-the-ground helpers to guide uninsured people into health coverage.

    Pennsylvania House Bill 1522 sets out a list of criteria navigators should meet.

    “It’s my belief that these navigators should receive some level of certification to be able to communicate complex information about insurance products,” said Tobash, who owns several insurance agencies in the commonwealth.

    Antoinette Kraus with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network says the state proposal is bad for health-care consumers and conflicts with existing federal oversight.

    “So the way the law it written, and from what we understand, it’s broader than just the navigators chosen by the federal government, this would apply to providers, nonprofit organizations and even individuals who just want to help their mom pick a plan in the health insurance exchange,” Kraus said.

    The House Health Committee approved the bill and, while Tobash said he hopes it will start a conversation, he said the proposal is not ready for a full House vote.

    Tobash is meeting with community groups to better understand their concerns.

    State Rep. Matt Baker, also a Republican, leads the state House Health Committee. He rejects the idea that the law was written to impede the rollout of Obamacare.

    “I’ve heard the criticism, but I think the intent of this legislation is consumer protection,” Baker said. “We don’t want to abdicate states rights or authority entirely to the federal government to make these decisions.”

    Baker says the Pennsylvania proposal was modeled on a template provided by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators. That group’s website says it provides information to lawmakers in the face of “mounting federal initiatives to preempt state insurance regulation.”

    A spokeswoman says the conference is not a lobbying organization and does not receive funding from the insurance industry.

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