Column: State already uses 'navigators' in many programs

Published Sep. 18, 2013

The governor of Florida is making it abundantly clear he will stop at nothing to sabotage the new federal health care law. And in so doing, he's putting at risk some of the very residents he was elected to serve.

Earlier this year, the governor decided to sign legislation that eliminated the Florida insurance commissioner's authority to reject or modify health insurers' rate hikes. In essence, he deregulated the industry in Florida and turned the big health insurance companies loose on the consumers he's supposed to protect.

Then, the governor stood silent as lawmakers in his own political party refused to allow an estimated 1.2 million more low-income Floridians to gain access to Medicaid. And without that coverage, odds are some of the 1.2 million will suffer.

Now, the governor wants to make it nearly impossible for many Floridians to consult with the very folks whose mission is to help them navigate the new health care system and to purchase affordable coverage under the new law.

More specifically, the governor is trying to bar these "navigators" from working at local health departments across the state.

According to the governor, these "navigators" would jeopardize consumers' privacy. And the state is signaling schools, volunteer organizations and health groups that there may be extra-long delays in approving state licenses for the navigators.

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.

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. That's right: even when buying health insurance created by the state.

From Medicaid to Medicare, from veterans' organizations to the state's own KidCare insurance program, navigators are available to make sure Floridians get assistance.

The people of Florida — many of whom will be purchasing health care coverage for the first time — are entitled to such assistance without the fear and concern generated by exaggerated claims about loss of privacy.

Floridians have been able to rely on this kind of assistance for decades and yet the governor has not previously questioned whether privacy was an issue.

Why then would he be using his power now to deny this kind of assistance to Floridians — as they try to benefit from the new health care law?

There is no plausible answer to that question.

As I see it, a public office is a public trust. And an elected official should represent not just some but all of the people — including the middle class, the poor and the disadvantaged.

Bill Nelson, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Florida.