Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas gets around state ban on Obamacare workers in health departments

After a state ban on helping people get subsidized insurance at their local health department prompted an uproar from St. Petersburg to Washington, some quick thinking on Thursday appears to pave a path forward — at least in Pinellas County.

Florida's health departments are run from Tallahassee, where Republican leaders from the start have opposed the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Monday, state health officials declared that they would not allow insurance outreach workers onto their property anywhere in the state.

But Pinellas County government just received a $600,000 federal grant to work with the health department to hire and train those workers, called navigators. The decree struck a blow at this partnership considered key to the success of the insurance marketplaces that open Oct. 1.

Thursday, Pinellas County Health Department Director Dr. Claude Dharamraj, a state employee, pointed something out to officials in Tallahassee.

"All our buildings are county property," she wrote in an email. Not only does Pinellas County own the buildings, it also shares office space in four of them with the state, she observed.

"I believe I am not in the position to dictate to (the county) what kind of staff they put in their office," she wrote.

It appears her bosses agreed.

Later that day, Dharamraj notified county commissioners that the navigators will be allowed into county health department offices.

It's unclear what will happen in other counties.

"Each situation is different per county," said Nathan Dunn, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

In Pinellas, at least, the space-sharing could lead to a scenario in which DOH staff send people across the hall for help with insurance.

Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch was relieved that a compromise was found around the state's ban.

"It reminds me of the '60s with the governor standing at the door and federal marshals having to come in," he said, referring to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's attempts to stop desegregation of the state university by literally blocking the door to the enrollment office.

State health officials "didn't have the authority they thought they had," Welch said.

State officials said they sought to bar the navigators because they are an outside group that shouldn't have access to health department offices.

"Within an area and a facility that houses Department of Health services where we have private health information and patient information, that's going to be protected," Dunn said.

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said blocking the navigators, coming on top of Florida's failure to expand Medicaid and create its own insurance marketplace, is a clear sign of politically motivated meddling.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and state Surgeon General John Armstrong on Thursday, she wrote: "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.''

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas gets around state ban on Obamacare workers in health departments 09/12/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:26am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Arcade Fire open hearts, play with passion at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa

    Blogs

    Gloves off, hearts open and disco balls glittering, Arcade Fire scaled the stage for the first time ever in Tampa, pouncing and flailing and performing with all the passion that’s made them one of the world’s most celebrated rock bands this century.

    Arcade Fire performed at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa on Sept. 22, 2017.
  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The wait felt like forever for Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, having gone 10 months without playing in a game.

    A scramble in front of the Lightning goal has Matthew Peca, far left, and Erik Cernak, middle, helping out goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy during the third period of a 3-1 win against the Predators. Vasilevskiy, who made 29 saves, was “exceptional,” coach Jon Cooper says.
  3. Rays journal: Alex Cobb may have pitched last game in Rays uniform (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — RHP Alex Cobb pitched well enough to lead the Rays to an 8-3 win over the Orioles on Friday.

    Wilson Ramos gives thanks after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs this season while improving his defense and baserunning but wants to improve on his .236 batting average.
  5. Fennelly: Lightning's Manon Rheaume made history 25 years ago Saturday

    Lightning Strikes

    The name is part of Lightning history, hockey history, sports history.

    Lightning goalie Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in an NHL game 25 years ago today.