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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

U.S. Rep. Castor: Barring 'navigators' from county health departments is 'absurd'

12

September

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor joins the growing list of liberals blasting Gov. Rick Scott and his administration for a policy barring people paid to help the uninsured sign up for health coverage from doing that work at county health departments. The edict, first reported by Health News Florida, is the latest example of resistance to health care reform from Florida's Republican leaders.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a national organization supporting implementation of the law, the Florida Democratic Party and Rep. Mia Jones have already released statements criticizing Scott and the state Department of Health for telling "navigators" they can't come onto state property.

The Department of Health told the Times/Herald today that it will not back down from its policy of keeping outside groups away from county health departments, including the "navigators."

"Consistent with normal departmental practice, we do not allow outside organizations to access Department of Health office space and information technology systems to conduct activities," communications director Nathan Dunn said via email. "We are treating the request for Navigators' space as any other organization that has sought to establish a physical presence in a county health department. Protecting personal health information is a high priority for the Florida Department of Health."

In addition to Castor's letter, two more Democrat lawmakers also have weighed in. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, called the policy a "moral outrage," and Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said Latinos were being negatively affected by the decision to restrict access to "navigators." Scroll down to read the full comments from all three.

Here is the letter from Kastor:

Dear Governor Scott and Surgeon General Armstrong:

The State of Florida’s pronouncement yesterday that local experts in health plan enrollment, known as “navigators,” will be barred from local health department offices is absurd and in direct conflict with the State of Florida Health Improvement Plan. Our neighbors across the state need all assistance possible to review affordable options and obtain health coverage. Your pronouncement is poor public policy and could result in harm to Florida families.

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released statistics that demonstrated that 25% of Floridians are uninsured - the second highest in the country. Fortunately, a new online marketplace will be available on October 1 for families and businesses to compare plans and purchase insurance. Significant tax credits for small businesses and individuals will make coverage even more affordable. This also is good news for the majority of Floridians who already have health insurance because they are currently paying to cover the uninsured through cost shifting.

In addition to the plain absurdity of barring expert navigators who can answer health coverage questions from local health department offices where many uninsured seek services, your action is in direct contravention to the State Health Improvement Plan that aims to improve access to health care through goals such as protect the health of Floridians; prevent and reduce illness, injury and death; prevent chronic disease; maximize community partnerships to improve the health of Floridians; and improve access to primary care.

The continued obstruction by you and many state leaders of the Affordable Care Act is contrary to the best interests of the citizens and businesses of Florida. You have rejected millions in tax dollars that rightfully belong in our state. With the rejection of Medicaid expansion, State officials have heaped the burden of paying for the uninsured on Floridians with insurance. Your ideology even led you and the Republican-led Legislature to remove the authority of the Insurance Commissioner to negotiate insurance rates and leave Floridians to the whim of insurance companies. Now, to deny access to navigators at health departments is another obstructionist measure that elevates ideology over the interests of Floridians who simply need to see a doctor or nurse and take personal responsibility through enrolling in affordable insurance.

Sincerely,

Kathy Castor
United States Representative
Florida – District 14

Bullard's statement:

"This is a moral outrage. After being noted for the high number of uninsured citizens in the state, the Florida Department of Health further creates a hurdle for the people who are most in need of help. This is just another example of Republican Governor Rick Scott punishing real people to advance his true agenda."

Torres's statement:

"More than a third of Florida's Hispanic community lacks health insurance, and our state has one of the highest rates of uninsured in the nation. For these reasons, I am outraged by the decision of Governor Rick Scott’s administration to make it harder for Floridians to get the information they need to attain affordable health care.

"Navigators will serve an important role for consumers in making health care decisions. Among other tasks, they will help Floridians overcome language barriers and various challenges in determining health coverage options. It is foolish to prevent these outreach workers from being allowed on the premises of county health departments.

"Accessible and affordable health care should not be a privilege for some. Rather, it should be a right for all Floridians, which means it’s critical that we strive to end racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

"Health care navigators, if allowed to carry out their work without political hurdles thrown at them, can improve health coverage among Latinos and will help all Floridians attain the health coverage they need and deserve."

[Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 9:41am]

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