Sound Policy Prevails on Restrictive Health Navigator Bill

Nearly everyone in Kansas that’s in the safety net clinic world embraced the beginning of the health insurance marketplace, knowing that many uninsured people would finally be able purchase affordable health insurance. There was an army of certified application counselors (CACs) and certified navigators throughout the state, including many in the Enroll Wyandotte effort, that completed required training so they could personally assist people enroll in an insurance plan.

Some policy makers felt otherwise. Legislation was introduced in the Kansas Legislature — SB 362 — that placed so many barriers on CACs and navigators that, if passed, would have effectively handcuffed these trained helpers from doing their work. Introduced in the Senate, the bill flew through committee and received resounding support on the floor. It was passed over to the House.

Politics can sometimes get in the way of reasonable policy, but not this time in the Kansas House of Representatives. Anticipating the bill would be assigned to the Health & Human Services Committee in the House, I met one-on-one with the majority of committee members prior to them receiving SB 362 to discuss the problems with the legislation. Some committee members acknowledged they were no fan of “Obamacare,” but this legislation went too far. Perhaps, given these concerns, tabling the bill might be a possibility?

On the day of the committee hearing, many opponents of SB 362 (including KAMU and the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County) presented our case to the committee. Only one proponent of the legislation provided oral testimony.

The following day the committee “worked the bill” — in other words, they discussed the legislation’s merits and flaws and commented on the testimony provided. After an impassioned speech to the committee by Rep. Don Hill (R – Emporia), asking where this type of over-regulation might stop and including a comment that “this committee has never heard better testimony than we heard yesterday,” a motion was made to table the bill. During a voice vote it appeared that it was unanimous. There were no committee members who opposed the motion. Senate Bill 362 did not get passed out by the committee for a vote on the floor, so it died in committee.

Politics can sometimes get in the way of sound policy. On that day in the Statehouse in Topeka, sound policy prevailed. As a result, people working to understand their insurance options in the health insurance marketplace received personal help. Kansas exceeded expectations on the number of individuals who enrolled in an insurance plan during this first open enrollment. And fewer people now will lay awake at night wondering what might happen to their future if they need medical care and can’t afford it.


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