JEFFERSON CITY — Measures to impose additional requirements on people who aid consumers with purchasing health insurance are making their way through the Missouri legislature, representing the state's latest attempt to fight the federal health care law.
The Missouri Senate passed legislation last week that would require navigators to take a written examination and undergo a criminal background check before becoming licensed to help people sign up for coverage on the insurance marketplace. Another bill would require navigators to purchase a $100,000 bond in case they are sued for unlawfully sharing a consumer's personal or financial information.
The health care law allocated funds for advisers to help people navigate the new online exchanges and to determine whether they might qualify for premium tax credits or free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid.
Republican state senators behind the new measures say the federal guidelines concerning navigators are too lax and that their legislation is necessary to help protect consumers from fraud.
Opponents of the legislation, however, say it would make it harder for people to get coverage and is just the latest Republican attempt to undermine the health care law.
"My biggest concern is that all we are doing is adding barriers for people to get health care," said Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence.
Democrats also said they were wary of passing more requirements on navigators while a lawsuit is pending against another Missouri law that requires navigators to be licensed.
The Republican-led legislature passed a law last year that requires navigators to be licensed, receive at least 30 hours of training and pay a small fee in order to help online shoppers negotiate the federal insurance exchange.
But a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against that law last month because it conflicted with the Affordable Care Act and would impose additional requirements on navigators than what the federal law specifies.
Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said passing the navigator legislation could lead to more lawsuits against the state. Democrats also added that if Missouri had opted to run its own exchange, rather than deferring to the federal government to run it, then the state would have had the ability to impose additional regulations on navigators.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who sponsored one of the bills, said the judge's ruling was only temporary and shouldn't stop the efforts to impose further regulate navigators.
"I don't think this an impediment," said Schaefer, R-Columbia. "This doesn't prevent people from using the exchange. All we are trying to do is protect Missouri citizens."
Schaefer's bill would prohibit navigators from releasing any of their clients' personal information. Doing so would let a client sue and collect $50,000 or actual damages, whichever amount is higher. It would require navigators to purchase a bond to cover the potential legal costs.
Both navigator bills now head to the House.