Gov. Rick Scott says he sides with Florida's families, yet he is obstructing their access to health care. Citing groundless privacy concerns, the governor is trying to block county health departments from assisting people in signing up for health insurance on the state's online marketplace that will open in a few weeks. It's one thing to voice philosophical objections to federal law. It's indefensible to stand in the doorway and deny Floridians access to health care.
The Florida Department of Health this week told the state's 60 local health department directors that local public health offices, where the uninsured often go for medical services or for help getting them, cannot have navigators on the premises. Under the Affordable Care Act, navigators are the helper-bees who will help people sort through their health insurance options starting Oct. 1, including how much they can expect in a federal subsidy, if any, and how to enroll online. But it isn't clear how much practical impact the state's edict will have. Some Florida counties, including Pinellas, have received federal grants to employ navigators and county health offices often operate from county-owned, not state-owned, buildings. Pinellas officials smartly maneuvered Thursday to make sure the navigators are still hired and will have work space.
Navigators have become targets for Republicans in Washington and Tallahassee, because they will be pivotal in signing people up for health insurance in the online marketplaces. In Congress, Republicans in the House are harassing them with burdensome and baseless requests for information. In Tallahassee, a law passed earlier this year requires navigators to be fingerprinted and have a background check.
Critics of navigators raise privacy and information security concerns when people provide their personal information. The issues were raised last month by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. But it's a red herring to cover an overtly political agenda. The navigator program has in place privacy safeguards and strict data security protocols, and navigators will be fully trained.
In the Tampa Bay region and most of the rest of the state, the program is being overseen by the University of South Florida. Jodi Ray, the project director, has plenty of experience signing people up for health benefits and responsibly handling their data. And the people who ask navigators for help will be doing so voluntarily.
What the Scott administration has done is recklessly spread confusion. It isn't clear where the ban on navigators applies and where it doesn't. For instance, the 41 clinics in the state that are federally qualified health centers can use navigators. Whether navigators can be barred from county owned buildings anywhere in the state is an unknown. In Hillsborough, of the seven buildings where the health department operates, the state owns only one.
Helping uninsured Floridians acquire affordable health care coverage should be the goal of every state leader. Navigators will soon be available to smooth that process along. But Scott would rather play politics than help Floridians get the coverage they so desperately need.