Obstructing efforts to help people sign up for coverage. It remains to be seen how effective federally-funded “navigators” will be at walking patients through the insurance system, but they won’t be getting any help from Scott and his team. In mid-August, the Herald’s Chang and Marc Caputo reported that the governor and his cabinet “questioned the safety of private information” that Floridians will supply to navigators. “My concern is that we have no control over how the data’s going to be used.” Scott said. Pam Bondi, the state’s attorney general, said this privacy business was a “consumer protection issue.” But were their comments designed to side with traditional insurance brokers in the ACA turf wars, or even scare people into not signing up for coverage?
Then last week, Carol Gentry of Health News Florida reported that the state Department of Health had issued an order forbidding navigators from counseling people on the premises of county health departments—a logical place for sign-ups, since people often seek treatment there. Gentry asked why. “There was a need for ‘clarity’ and ‘a consistent message’ across the agency,” said a department spokeswoman. Dr. Marc Yacht, a retired county health director, told Gentry the order will “significantly compromise a multitude of needy Floridians from getting critical health care.”
Apparently the state of play in the Sunshine State has alarmed Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius so much that she is making repeated trips to Florida to promote the Affordable Care Act. Last Friday, in response to the restriction on navigators’ access, Sebelius’ office sent out one of its ICYMI messages featuring an AP story about the Secretary’s visit to Orlando. Perhaps that inspired a report in The New York Times Wednesday that featured an unusually declarative headline: “Florida Among States Undercutting Health Care Enrollment.” (The story also quoted the insurance commission in neighboring Georgia saying the state would do “everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”)
Millions of Floridians need help navigating the insurance jungle. It falls to the press to step into the breach, not only to continue revealing the politics of Gov. Scott’s wagon train but also to give consumers the answers they need to buy insurance federal law says they’re entitled to. The coverage to date has been solid. But it’s time for the Tampa Bay Times, the Herald, the Sun Sentinel, and others to reach back into their archives and dust off the great stories they did during the heyday of the consumer movement and afterward—stories that revealed fraud and deception, stories that exposed who state regulators were listening to, and most important, stories that guided buyers through the marketplace. In this time of the state recalcitrance and public confusion, they would be doing their audiences a major service.
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