The biggest parts of Obamacare haven't been implemented yet, but they are approaching fast. Most will go into effect on January 1, less than six months away. One of the most important provisions going into effect on January 1 is the individual mandate, which will require everyone to purchase health insurance or face a fine. To prepare citizens for the individual mandate, the ACA's health insurance exchanges will be opening for business on October 1. The exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers can compare and purchase affordable health insurance. In Texas, which has the highest percentage of uninsured people in the country, the exchanges have the potential to help 3 million people gain coverage.
The Texas exchanges are going to be run by the federal government after Governor Perry refused to cooperate with the Obama administration and create a state-run marketplace. In addition, the federal government announced last week that it will be awarding Texas organizations a total of $10.8 million to act as healthcare navigators. The largest grant went to the United Way of Tarrant County, which (in collaboration with 17 smaller organizations) received $5.8 million. The East Texas Behavioral Healthcare Network received $1.3 million, while six more organizations each received smaller grants as well. These grants are part of a total of $67 million that was awarded to organizations nationwide to assist with the implementation of these extensive healthcare reforms.
So what exactly do navigators do? And how have Rick Perry and Greg Abbott tried to stop them? Read about it after the jump. As their name suggests, these navigators will help individuals navigate the new exchanges to find insurance coverage, and teach people how the new healthcare law affects them. The ACA requires that each exchange have at least two organizations acting as navigators, and at least one of those has to be a non-profit. Their job is to provide “fair, impartial, and accurate information that assists consumers with submitting the eligibility application, clarifying distinctions about [qualified health plans], and helping qualified individuals make informed decisions during the health plan selection process.” Navigators will also help individuals who are disabled, don't speak English, or are unfamiliar with health insurance.
They're also going to face a tight schedule. Navigators have to be ready to go when the exchanges open up on October 1. The department of Health and Human Services has ruled that navigators must have 30 hours of training to become a “certified application counselor.” That means organizations are going to have to hire and train their navigators in only about 5 weeks. It's a quick turnaround time, but most organizations are confident they can get it done.
Navigators are working with the Obama administration to extend health insurance to lots of people, so you can be sure our Republican elected officials are making an effort to stop them. Not only has Governor Perry refused to create a state-run health insurance exchange, he's also repeatedly refused to comply with even the most basic requests from the federal government. Texas didn't submit to a federal request for information about the state's health insurance plans, making more work for the feds as they create Texas's insurance exchange. In addition, last week Greg Abbott and twelve other Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressing their many concerns about ACA navigators. Their primary concern was that navigators would put patient privacy at risk, despite the fact that navigators will be trained to follow state and federal privacy laws and face hefty fines when they don't. Most medical professionals and advocates have denounced Abbott's “concern” as politically motivated, designed to create yet another burden to the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare's success in Texas is important to the success of the law as a whole. Successful implementation in Texas could serve as a national example of the ACA's progress. Our state is home to the most uninsured people nationwide, which is why we got the largest navigator grant–Texas has a lot of work to do. No matter what Republicans say, navigators are going to make that work easier. Navigators will help millions of uninsured Texans gain access to health insurance coverage. More coverage means a healthier state, and that's good news for all Texans.