News Column

Texas Insurance Commish Will Go Along With Obamacare

October 15, 2013

Marty Schladen, El Paso Times

Oct. 15--AUSTIN -- The Texas Insurance Commissioner on Tuesday tried to de-escalate the war of words between Gov. Rick Perry and the Obama administration over parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Last month, Perry ordered Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber to impose tough, additional requirements on "navigators" -- people who assist clients purchasing insurance in on-line marketplaces.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, requires most Americans without insurance to buy it by Jan. 1 or face tax penalties. The system offers subsidies based on people's income.

Perry has been adamantly opposed to the initiative, refusing a federally funded expansion of Medicaid and declining to set up a Texas insurance marketplace, leaving it to the federal government to do it instead.

As part of the federal program, navigators are trained to protect client privacy and they face fines of up to $25,000 if they violate it.

Even so, Perry last month instructed Rathgeber to require that Texas navigators get an additional 40 hours of training, undergo a rigorous state-administered exam, background checks and require them to report names and other information about people they sign up to the state for inclusion in a database. Perry instructed Rathgeber to charge a fee to cover the cost of enforcing the regulations.

Perry's spokesman said the rules were necessary to guard against fraud that had already been found. But Fabian Levy, a spokesman for the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, said Perry's order was "clearly an ideologically driven attempt to prevent the uninsured from gaining health coverage."

Texas Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has said that Perry improperly used a law Watson authored earlier this year as an excuse to try to impose extra regulations on Affordable Care Act navigators. In a Senate hearing Tuesday, Watson asked Rathgeber whether her department would issue new rules as a consequence of Perry's instructions.

"I think we will move forward with a rule of some sort," she said.

But Rathgeber added that she and her staff were working with federal authorities to identify any holes in the federal system for screening and training navigators.

"I see this as more of a collaborative process than an adversarial process," she said.

Marty Schladen may be reached at mschladen@elpasotimes.com; 512-479-6606.

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(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at www.elpasotimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: Texas insurance commissioner says she'll cooperate with feds on Obamacare


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Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)


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