LINCOLN — Insurance agents squared off against consumer advocates Tuesday over how to carry out a key piece of the federal health care law.
The agents argued for state licensing and regulation of “navigators” — the people who will be helping Nebraskans learn about their health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.
Groups representing low-income and older Nebraskans said Legislative Bill 568 would stifle navigators' ability to carry out their role in the federal health overhaul.
“The more barriers we put up, the less people we're going to find to do the work,” said Rebecca Rayman, executive director of the Good Neighbor Community Health Center in Columbus.
State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, who introduced LB 568, called it a “consumer protection bill.”
The bill was one of two heard by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee that sought to maintain some state involvement with the soon-to-be-created health insurance exchange.
Gov. Dave Heineman decided last fall to let the federal government create an exchange for Nebraska, rather than take on the task as a state.
Another measure, LB 384, would create a Nebraska Exchange Stakeholder Commission to offer oversight and advice to federal and state officials involved with the new exchange.
Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, who introduced the bill, said the proposed commission would give Nebraskans a voice in the creation and operation of the exchange. The 12-member commission also could make recommendations about whether to have the state take over the exchange in the future, Nordquist said.
Insurance exchanges, also called insurance marketplaces, are the centerpiece of the federal health care overhaul. They will be one-stop shops where people can compare and buy private health insurance, get federal subsidies to help pay the premiums or enroll in Medicaid if eligible.
The federal law created the navigator position to help guide people who may not already be insured and may be unfamiliar with buying health insurance.
Navigators also are supposed to do outreach to people who may be unaware of their options.
Harr said he introduced LB 568 to ensure that Nebraskans have a familiar place to turn if they run into problems with the navigators.
The bill would give the Nebraska Department of Insurance the authority to regulate navigators, much as the department regulates insurance agents and brokers.
Under the bill, navigators would have to get training, pass an examination and take continuing education to be licensed.
It would bar navigators from giving advice about particular health plans but would allow them to give general information about health insurance options.
As introduced, the bill also would have required navigators to live in the state, provide fingerprints for a criminal background check and post a surety bond.
Harr offered an amendment striking those requirements, which State Insurance Director Bruce Ramge said were stricter than the requirements for insurance agents and brokers.
Wes Bissett, representing the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, said the bill would help ensure that people hired as navigators are qualified to do the job.
It also provides a means of holding them accountable for improper actions, he said.
But Mark Intermill, speaking for AARP Nebraska, said the proposed state regulations would be difficult for community and consumer groups to meet. Those groups will be working with many of Nebraska's uninsured population.
The proposal also would duplicate the training and certification requirements of the federal government, Rayman said.
The committee took no action on the bills.
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