Legislators OK rules to help consumers with health insurance

Some Louisiana legislators worried Tuesday that their constituents won’t have the help they need as they make health insurance choices under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The concern came during a state legislative Joint Committee on Insurance meeting, during which it approved rules and regulations governing “navigators.”

The navigators’ job is to help people make informed decisions on a health plan that fits their needs.

Affordable Care Act enrollment begins Oct. 1 for coverage that starts Jan. 1.

The plans will be offered through a health insurance exchange. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Louisiana Health Cooperative are statewide offerings while Vantage Health Plan and Humana Health are regional.

Four groups were awarded $1.8 million in federal funds to provide navigators to help consumers make choices and to educate them about subsidies available.

The Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center of Lafayette got most of the money — $1.1 million to lead a statewide effort. It will use 19 paid staffers.

“I don’t see where this dollar amount is going to satisfy the need,” said state Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville.

“We are going to be the ones they (constituents) are going to call,” said state Rep. Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge. “Nineteen bodies throughout the state is not enough.”

Brian Burton, projects director for Southwest, said the program it is embarking on is based on the resources available.

“We would love the opportunity to seek additional funding,” Burton said.

Burton said his group is working in coordination with other area health education centers doing outreach in a variety of settings, including churches, libraries and civic groups. He said a website would be up and running by Oct. 1.

“Our goal is to get out there and provide information to the community so they can make the best choices,” Burton said.

He said the plan calls for sessions in every community with a population of at least 5,000 people in the coming months.

Burton said others besides navigators, including insurance agents, certified application counselors and some volunteers, will be working to get people enrolled. The counselors are not paid and must go through some federal training.

“Our legislative aides are going to be swamped,” said Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, chairman of the state Senate Insurance Committee. Morrish encouraged Burton to get legislators and their assistants information so they can help get constituents to the help they need.

Other groups awarded federal grants as navigators were Southern United Neighborhoods of New Orleans, $486,123; the Martin Luther King Health Center Inc., $81,066; and Capital Area Agency on Aging, District II, Inc., Baton Rouge.

Each entity must be registered with the state Department of Insurance and provide the names of those working for it.