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The Health Care Battle Over Navigators

(Center for Public Integrity) Early in the summer of 2009, when lawmakers were starting work on what would become the largest health care overhaul in decades, the industry associations that represent insurance agents and brokers caught wind of an obscure provision.
The plan called for state and federal governments to hire so-called "navigators" — members of social service organizations or advocacy groups — to help people use the new online marketplaces created by the law to choose among insurance plans and enroll in coverage.
The navigator program garnered little attention in the midst of the larger legislative battle. But agents and brokers, worried that navigators would cut into their business, immediately took aim, labeling the initiative "reckless."
When President Obama finally signed the law in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act did include a navigator program — but that hasn't stopped insurance agents and brokers from fighting against it. Over the past three years, the groups have waged an intense but little-noticed lobbying effort to regulate navigators in the states, leading to the passage of 16 state laws over the past year and a half. Most of the laws contain language that closely resembles recommendations that agents and brokers have been pushing in statehouses nationwide — a push receiving received crucial aid from a legislators’ group focused on insurance policy that is supported with industry funds.
Backers of the laws say they provide needed oversight of navigators by establishing state authority and common-sense regulations. But consumer advocates and some health policy experts warn that the laws could shackle the navigator program, meaning fewer people would have access to help.
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Please do not give advice. We can best help each other by telling what works for us, not what we think someone else should do.