By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Heavily Democratic Broward County is expected to join Pinellas County in resisting Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to bar Obamacare enrollment advisors from state health department facilities.
Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs will offer a resolution at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that would allow Affordable Care Act “navigators” and counselors at Florida Department of Health facilities in Broward County. The commission, which is dominated by Democrats, is expected to approve the proposal.
Jacobs has scheduled a news conference after the vote where Obamacare outreach efforts will be publicized.
In her resolution, Jacobs adopted Pinellas County’s argument that the state cannot prevent Obamacare advisors from health department buildings because the county owns most of those facilities.
Of the eight Florida health offices in Broward, the county owns seven of the buildings and leases them to the state Health Department.
The state health department notified its county health field offices two weeks ago that Obamacare navigators, federal employees trained to help people obtain health insurance under the new system, would be barred from “the grounds of the health departments.” That notice caused several Pinellas County commissioners in that mostly Democratic county to protest.
The protest apparently forced state health officials there to backtrack. The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that Obamacare enrollment navigators would be allowed into health department buildings in Pinellas County.
“It is criminal that anyone would put their foot out to trip up that process for sharing (Affordable Care Act) information,” Broward Mayor Jacobs said in an interview. “You can’t tell us that we can’t do that in our own facility.”
“Reaching out to the public and letting them know what their options are for health care is an important mission for government…for the little guy,” she added. Jacobs, a Democrat who cannot run for re-election as a county commissioner because of term limits, will run for a Florida House seat next year.
The signature achievement of President Obama’s first term, the Affordable Care Act is under attack by Republicans across the country who are determined to undermine it. One tactic has been to head off people from enrolling for health coverage when the program kicks in Oct. 1.
Scott opposes the federal Affordable Care Act. Florida has declined $51 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid to help cover 3.8 million uninsured for the next ten years.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, another Republican, has expressed worry that any personal information navigators collect may not stay private.
Jacobs labeled Bondi’s claim “not true” and a “smoke screen” to taint Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act kicks in October 1. Navigators and “certified application counselors” will be at various locations throughout the county to help uninsured persons enroll in a health plan.
Navigators are paid by federal grant dollars. Certified application counselors receive no federal money. They work for private organizations that requested Obamacare training to certify their staff.
Jacobs said that only seven navigators have been assigned to Broward County, which has one of the largest uninsured and underinsured populations in the state. “That alone makes outreach difficult,” said Jacobs.
The mayor added that Obamacare counselors are needed at county health department buildings because that’s where persons who lack adequate health insurance regularly go.
Federal money to train and hire navigators in Broward went to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida and Advanced Patient Advocacy. Unlike in Pinellas County, Broward government received no federal money for navigators.
Jacobs expects more counties to push back against the state’s restriction on Obamacare counselors. She said that at last week’s meeting of the Florida Association of Counties, “Everybody was having the same conversation. ‘What were they thinking? Why are they doing this?’” Jacobs said. “So I expect this (resistance) will continue to happen county by county.”
Jacobs’ resolution calls for the county administrator to notify the Florida Health Department director that Broward will “provide access to all appropriate county facilities and property for navigators and other lawfully authorized personnel to carry out the advisory mandates of the (Affordable Care Act), including facilities leased by from the county by the Florida Department of Health…”
William Hladky can be reached at [email protected]