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PolitiFact Florida: Bill Nelson says health care navigators are nothing new

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has a message for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who doesn't want Obamacare "navigators" spreading the word about the health care law: Relax. We've had similar folks helping Floridians navigate health care programs for many years.

"State officials have so far failed to mention that these 'consumer helpers' have been serving the people of Florida in various ways for years — and, yes, even with the current governor's full backing," Nelson wrote in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed. "In fact, many state and federal agencies have such 'navigators' involved in helping folks maneuver through the often complex processes associated with filing benefits claims, for example — even buying health insurance."

We wondered: Are there already similar navigators who help the public access health insurance and other services?

In our search for something similar to Obamacare navigators, we started with Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for seniors, and Medicaid, which serves the poor.

"The navigator program is similar to Medicare counselors, which have existed for years and never faced this kind of bullying from Florida," U.S. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Fabien Levy said.

States receive federal grants to hire people that help Medicare beneficiaries enroll for coverage, and this year Florida received about $3 million.

The Florida version of the program is called SHINE, which stands for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, and is overseen by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, which contracts with local Area Agency on Aging groups. Florida has 463 SHINE volunteers.

SHINE volunteers aren't involved in Obamacare and aren't called navigators, said Ashley Marshall, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elder Affairs.

But they fulfill a similar role in that they help guide Floridians who need insurance.

SHINE volunteers assist seniors primarily with questions about Medicare and sometimes Medicaid if a client qualifies for both. Outreach efforts include a helpline and spreading the word at community events.

"What we provide is free unbiased information," said Charles Franckle, SHINE coordinator for Pinellas County. "When people are approaching Medicare, they might contact us to ask us should they sign up for Part A and B and how do they do it."

Another health insurance program, this one for children, also includes outreach to help families sign up for care.

It's called KidCare.

An outreach calendar for September showed various community events statewide where families could learn more about KidCare, such as at Pasco County's Kids Health and Safety Day.

In fact, KidCare even uses the term "navigators."

A Nelson spokesman pointed to a 2012 sample contract that stated the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. was seeking grant proposals from "eligible organizations to become Regional Navigators and assist eligible families in applying for or retaining Florida KidCare."

The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs also provides benefits counseling related to state and federal veterans' programs. The department has paid claims examiners who work out of VA medical centers, clinics and nursing homes and provide benefits counseling to help connect Floridians to benefits such as disability payments and pensions. The counselors don't enroll veterans in health care but do point them in the right direction.

Our ruling

Seeking to assuage concerns about Obamacare navigators, Nelson said, "Many state and federal agencies have such 'navigators' involved in helping folks maneuver through the often complex processes associated with filing benefits claims, for example — even buying health insurance."

Let's review our findings:

• SHINE volunteers help seniors with questions about Medicare.

• State Medicaid counselors assist the poor who use that health insurance program.

• KidCare navigators provide information about that state health insurance program for poor children.

• The state veterans' affairs provides benefits counseling.

There are differences in terms of some of the requirements and training to become an Obamacare navigator versus those who provide assistance for some of these other programs. However Nelson didn't say they are identical: He said that we already have such "navigators" to help Floridians access services.

We rate this claim True.

This item has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

"Many state and federal agencies have such 'navigators' involved in helping folks maneuver through the often complex processes associated with filing benefits claims, for example — even buying health insurance."

Sen. Bill Nelson, in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: True
Though the names might not be the same, people help Floridians sign up for Medicare, KidCare and veterans benefits, among other programs. We rate Nelson's claim True.

PolitiFact Florida: Bill Nelson says health care navigators are nothing new 10/06/13 [Last modified: Sunday, October 6, 2013 8:42pm]

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