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Texas Adds More Health Law Navigator Training

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AUSTIN (AP) - Federally funded “navigators” who help Texans get health insurance under the federal health care overhaul must obtain more training sought by Gov. Rick Perry, state officials announced Tuesday, but not as much as he and other Republicans wanted.

The Texas Department of Insurance ordered navigators to complete 20 hours of additional training by May 1. That’s half the time Perry asked the agency to implement in September, which set off a groundswell of opposition from Democrats and nonprofit groups that are helping Texans enroll.

Federal guidelines already require navigators to complete 20 to 30 hours of training. Perry and Republicans, however, have insisted more training is necessary to protect consumers who put their personal information in the hands of navigators.

“These rules are important, common-sense protections for Texans and their personal and private information,” Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.

Open enrollment in the federal health care marketplace ends March 31. Giving nonprofits a month after that to complete the additional training spares them the time crunch of trying to comply with the new mandate before the deadline.

Last week, Texas’ delegation of congressional Democrats called the proposed 40 hours of additional training the most burdensome in any of 17 states with federally facilitated exchanges. They and a network of nonprofits across Texas argued the additional requirements would be costly and unnecessary.

About 25 percent of Texas residents, or some 6 million people, lack health insurance. That’s the highest rate in the nation.

Democratic state Rep. Lon Burnam, who claims he obtained documents under lawmaker privilege showing that politics drove the decision to implement more training, expressed some satisfaction in the new rules being less comprehensive than first proposed.

“There was no justification for the original proposal other than conservative politics, so I’m glad TDI has relented and come up with training requirements that are at least somewhat logical,” Burnam said.

Navigators have until March 1 to register with the state for the additional training.

“These rules will help ensure Texans have confidence that anyone registered as a navigator has passed appropriate background checks and received the training they need to safeguard a consumer’s most sensitive and personal information,” state Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber said.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, said the new rules duplicate the efforts already made by her organization, which received a nearly $1 million sub-grant from the United Way of Tarrant County to hire 12 navigators serving Dallas and 17 surrounding counties. The council has done background checks and training above and beyond what was already required, including thorough sessions on privacy laws, CHIP and Medicaid, she said.

In addition, the organization has a $25,000 insurance policy for each of its employees. She questioned whether she will now have to arrange for additional insurance because the department has called it a “surety bond” in its rules.

“Many of these rules are duplicative and on top of what we already have,” Blaine said.

She estimated it would cost her organization $25,000 to train the navigators, which is money Blaine said her council doesn’t have.

“Additional training will take time away from their work with clients at a time when we should be spending every waking moment helping people enroll before the end of open enrollment,” Blaine said. “It will take administrative time and it will take money from our organization, and those are taxpayer dollars.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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