Nine Florida Democrats serving in the U.S. House have joining the growing list of liberals bashing a state policy barring paid health care advisors from contacting patients at local health departments.
“This announcement from the Florida Department of Health is the latest attempt by Republicans in Florida to create roadblocks to successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. "To ban Navigators from utilizing county health centers to assist uninsured people signing up for health insurance is simply unconscionable."
They ended the statement with a direct challenge to Gov. Rick Scott: “We call on Gov. Scott and the Florida Department of Health to put Floridians first and lift this harmful, spiteful ban immediately.”
(Scroll down for the full statement and a list of the nine congressmen.)
Asked Thursday to respond to the controvery, Scott told reporters his main concern about the navigators was privacy but stopped short of saying whether or not he agreed with the DOH policy.
He has not explained how much his office knew about the directive and whether he signed off before local health departments were told about it. Asked for Scott's response to a letter from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor Thursday, the governor's office directed reporters to the DOH communications staff.
The Herald/Times followed up with three questions:
- -When was Gov. Scott was made aware of the DOH policy barring navigators from county health departments?
- -Was he consulted before the email was sent to the health department administrators?
- -Does he agree with the policy?
The response from spokeswoman Jackie Schutz, even after two follow-up emails:
"We were aware of the department's decision."
Officials from DOH continue to defend the decision to ban "navigators" from local health departments, saying it falls in line with a general policy of restricting access to outsiders. But Democrats see it as another attempt from Florida's Republican leadership to resist the federal health care law.
Meanwhile, Pinellas County's health department found a loophole to the policy. "Navigators" are stationed in the same building as the health department, and the DOH gave Pinellas permission to refer uninsured patients to the advisors, Health News Florida reported Thursday.
Other counties could follow suit, not allowing the "navigators" into their offices but ensuring they are stationed nearby to assist patients.
Here is the full statement from the Florida congressional Democrats:
On Monday, the Florida Department of Health announced that health care outreach workers known as Navigators will not be allowed on county health center properties to help educate uninsured people about their health care insurance options available in the new marketplaces opening for enrollment on Oct. 1. Members of the Florida Congressional delegation, U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Corrine Brown (FL-05), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Ted Deutch (FL-21), Alan Grayson (FL-09), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Joe Garcia (FL-26), and Patrick Murphy (FL-18) released the following statement:
“This announcement from the Florida Department of Health is the latest attempt by Republicans in Florida to create roadblocks to successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. To ban Navigators from utilizing county health centers to assist uninsured people signing up for health insurance is simply unconscionable.
“Navigators are specifically designated to help people understand their health insurance options and their goal is to reach as many uninsured or underinsured people in Florida as possible. County health care centers provide health care services to the uninsured, making them a logical location for Navigators to achieve their goals.
“Florida’s Department of Health says its’ mission is to “protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.” However, this latest round of political maneuvering flies in the face of that mission, and instead makes it harder to help the uninsured get the health insurance they need. Governor Scott’s and Florida Republicans’ obsession with opposing the Affordable Care Act at every turn, despite the fact that it’s the law of the land and was upheld by the Supreme Court, continues to harm Floridians.
“We call on Gov. Scott and the Florida Department of Health to put Floridians first and lift this harmful, spiteful ban immediately.”