Navigators spark debate from Republicans

As specifics about the health insurance exchanges continue to come out, opponents continue to scrutinize and criticize regulations. Recent concerns, according to CQ, come from Republicans who are worried about the role that navigators will play in the marketplace, the National Association of Healthcare Access Management reports.

The navigators are needed because “many people who would buy insurance through the marketplace have never had insurance before and will need help in choosing the right plan” says Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), a member of the House committee on Energy and Commerce, agrees that there needs to be a helper, but he disagrees with HHS’s idea. HHS plans to fund the navigators with $54 million in grants that will be spread across the 33 states that have a federally run exchanges or a state-federal partnership. Murphy announced at a hearing that the role can be filled by insurance brokers, paid by private sector companies instead of the federal government.

HHS leaders disagree with Murphy and emphasize the need for the navigators to be independent. Otherwise, they fear, brokers will be more focused on selling their company’s plan to the customer, even when it might not be the right plan for them. Regulations set down by HHS bar licensed brokers and insurance agents from acting as navigators, but it allows them to assist people in signing up for coverage. This approach worries some Republicans who fear that those experienced in the insurance industry will not be able to help, which leaves the navigator roles to be filled by inexperience newcomers.

These navigators will finish their training in August before the public starts seeing eligible plans in September. The open enrollment period begins in October, and all marketplace plans will cover individuals beginning January 2014.