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'Navigators' won't collect personal info, enrollment groups say

The director of an organization that received a sizeable federal grant to help the uninsured sign up for coverage said the workers she hired won't be collecting personal information and will be trained to avoid confidentiality breaches.

Those comments by Jodi Ray of Florida Covering Kids & Families directly address concerns raised by  Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and other Cabinet officials. Ray said the workers, known as "navigators," will be trained and ready to begin Oct. 1.

"We're not really collecting information, we're assisting people with the application," she said during a conference call with the media this morning. "So we're not going to be walking away with their information, there's no reason for that."

Ray's organization, based at the University of South Florida, has been helping families sign up for Medicaid and a similar insurance program for children for 15 years. She said the navigators-in-training, paid using a $4.2 million federal grant, will be well versed on privacy laws and also are required by the state to be licensed and pass background checks.

There was a second controversy Ray wouldn't address: the dustup over the Department of Health policy that bars navigators from working inside local health departments. She declined to comment.

Ron Pollack, executive director of national organization Families USA, said that's because groups like theirs want to steer clear of the political debate about the health care law and instead focus on its implementation.

"I think the time for politics about the Affordable Care Act is over, and so we're not going to engage in that controversy here and now," he said during the call.

Republican opposition to the health care law is ongoing, both in Washington and in several conservative states, Pollack said. He believes the best defense is the law itself, and as more people sign up for coverage and benefit from its provisions they will serve as the most effective response to those who oppose health care reform.

Families USA estimates that 1.73 million Floridians will qualify to receive tax subsidies to purchase insurance on the federal health exchange. More than one-third, approximately 581,000, are between the ages of 18 and 34, the organization said.

Click here to download the Families USA infographic of new health coverage in Florida.

There is one large segment of Floridians who will remain uninsured: those who would be covered if the state expanded Medicaid. Since Florida's House Republicans blocked a plan to use federal dollars to cover the poorest Floridians, many adults making less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level ($11,490 for a single person) will have nowhere to turn.

"That's not a problem or flaw of the Affordable Care Act, it's an unfortunate result of state of Florida failing to opt into the Medicaid expansion," Pollack said, adding that even Scott supported Medicaid expansion.

"And as a result, those people who are the poorest of the poor, those who have incomes below the federal poverty level, they are not going to be able to participate in this new marketplace because it was expected that they would get their coverage from Medicaid," Pollack said. "...It's very unfortunate that the people who need help the most will be at least temporarily excluded unless and until Florida decides to opt into the Medicaid expansion."