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As Obamacare is launched, Bondi back on Fox News to provide help

No one has been more critical of the Affordable Care Act than Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi, so it was perhaps no surprise to find her on Fox News on Tuesday morning -- the first day people could sign up for the subsidized health insurance.

But rather than play her usual role as the law’s main antagonist, Bondi instead sounded no loud alarms about how the law would be detrimental to Floridians. Instead she sounded more concerned about how the law was being implemented during a five-minute interview with Fox’s Martha MacCallum.

“There’s still so much uncertainty involved in this,” Bondi said. “And you know the technology is still very very complicated, and whether people can get accurate information about plans available and what federal subsidies exist or they qualify for, that’s yet to be seen -- how they’re able to navigate this.”

Navigate?

It was Florida’s Department of Health that issued an order last month to prohibit navigators from county health departments out of privacy concerns that Bondi has shared repeatedly at Cabinet meetings and on Fox. The federal Health and Human Services Department called the state’s order “another blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups” helping those seeking health care.

And on Tuesday, while Bondi shared her privacy concerns again, she also seemed concerned that the navigators would be able to do their jobs.

“One thing that concerns us still in Florida is we have, it’s been widely reported that there are well over half a million Hispanics who qualify for uninsured and who qualify for this plan, yet the Spanish speaking website isn’t up and running yet,” Bondi said. “So we hope they get that site up and running as soon as possible. I do not know know if any of the navigators speak Spanish. We do have 34 registered navigators currently in Florida. We are a very big state, and again, this is all going to vary from state to state.”

 

During another, unfinished exchange, Bondi says this:

“They changed the time the navigators to only need 20 hours of training now, but their job, their job and this is very important for folks to know, to help educate people on enrolling in this program.  Their job is to offer impartial information about the plans, the availability of tax credits, subsidies, to offset the cost of a plan. Certainly not to direct consumers to a specific plan. And hopefully the navigators will do their job. Hopefully more of them…(Bondi continues but is inaudible as she’s interrupted by MacCallum)

MacCallum: Yeah, the complaint is that there aren’t more of them out there.

Bondi’s tone Tuesday on Fox was certainly different and more resigned than her previous appearances on Fox to bash Obamacare.

In July, she slammed the delay in the verification of applicants’ eligibility for subsidized insurance in state run exchanges.

"Here now, we have nothing to prevent fraud," Bondi said on the July 9 "FOX and Friends" morning show. "Anyone can come and say we can qualify for this, and there is absolutely no verification."

Yet Florida refused to set up its own marketplace and defaulted to the federal government’s exchange, making Bondi’s concerns moot because the delay didn’t apply to the state she represents.

Then, on the Sept. 17 “Fox and Friends”,  Bondi fretted about “navigators” hired to help the uninsured register for coverage.

“Now we have navigators coming into our state and they’re not doing background checks, they’re not doing fingerprints,” she said. “Census takes have better background checks than navigators.”

And yet, Bondi was told otherwise during the Aug 20 Florida Cabinet meeting, where Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty gave a presentation explaining that lawmakers had already made sure navigators would be scrutinized at a higher level in Florida.

"In Florida, the Legislature has healed those gaps in the federal program by passing Senate Bill 1842, which requires navigators to be registered," McCarty told Bondi in August. "The registration process is set up much like agent licensing, except the federal government provides the training. Senate Bill 1842 requires fingerprinting and gives authority to the state to revoke a navigator's registration."

Bondi’s chief of staff Carlos Muniz later replied via email that she had been talking in general terms about the federal government’s less stringent rules when she said “we have navigators coming into our state and they’re not doing background checks, they’re not doing fingerprints.”

That’s a nuance that would have been lost to anyone by Bondi’s use of the term “our state.”

But Muniz insisted that Bondi wasn’t referring to Florida, where navigators must be licensed, pass background checks and submit their fingerprints for screening.

Here's the video

Here’s the transcript:

Martha MacCallum: Pam Bondi is the Florida Attorney General, she’s been challenging the constitutionality of this law since the very beginning and now here we are. It’s a new world that we’re living in on Day 1 of Obamacare. Pam Bondi, you fought very hard to never see this day, but it’s here. How do you think it’s going?

Bondi: Well, time will tell. And you know Martha, there’s still so much uncertainty involved in this. And you know the technology is still very very complicated, and whether people can get accurate information about plans available and what federal subsidies exist or they qualify for, that’s yet to be seen -- how they’re able to navigate this.  Because in Florida we have over 100 plans but that’s different for each county. You know some Florida counties only have a couple plans to choose from so that’s all yet to be seen, but you know circumstances are going to vary from one person to another and you can’t paint it with a big brush in Florida nor can we predict what’s going to happen because every person has a unique circumstance. One thing that concerns us still in Florida is we have, it’s been widely reported that there are well over half a million hispanics who qualify for uninsured and who qualify for this plan,yet the spanish speaking website isn’t up and running yet. So we hope they get that site up and running as soon as possible. I do not know know if any of the navigators speak spanish. We do have 34 registered navigators currently in Florida. We are a very big state, and again, this is all going to vary from state to state.  

Martha MacCallum: So Pam, anyone who is a big supporter of this law as it stands now would say there’s more than 20 percent of people in Florida who don’t have health insurance. So this will provide an avenue for them to get this coverage. Right?

Bondi: Well, I think the issue in Florida, too, is how much is it going to cost over the next decade? Nothing is truly free. In Florida, Obamacare awarded $8 million in federal grants to eight Florida entities, including a University of South Florida-based program. They changed the time the navigators to only need 20 hours of training now, but their job, their job and this is very important for folks to know, to help educate people on enrolling in this program.  Their job is to offer impartial information about the plans, the availability of tax credits, subsidies, to offset the cost of a plan. Certainly not to direct consumers to a specific plan. And hopefully the navigators will do their job. Hopefully more of them…(Bondi continues but is inaudible as she’s interrupted by MacCallum)

MacCallum: Yeah, the complaint is that there aren’t more of them out there. We don’t know how well trained they are, as you say. But they’re going to ask for a lot of information, Pam. They’re going to be inputting a lot of your information into their computers.

Bondi: Yes

MacCallum: And I know you have a lot of concerns about privacy. So what should they know, do you feel?

Bondi: Martha, thank you for asking that. As attorney general I want to tell people that you have to be vigilant against fraud and scams. We hope that Americans remain safe. But even the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, if you go on their website they’ve warned Medicare recipients to be wary of people who are telling them they need new medical cards. If you receive a call like that, that’s a scam. Report it to the FTC because a real navigator wouldn’t do that. Someone who’s really trying to assist you wouldn’t do that. The FTC website is already telling us that they have complaints about people who are claiming to be with the government wanting social security numbers and banking information. That’s just like with anything. When you start a new program, you’re going to have scammers. But if I could just say, if you think you’re being scammed, call 1-877-FTC-HELP, or if you’re in Florida, call 1-866-9-NO-SCAM to reach my office, and you can do that in any state.

MacCallum: That’s a great point. And for anybody out there, the older folks especially, if you have any inclination that somebody’s asking for information that you’re not comfortable giving them, you should not give it to them.

Bondi: Exactly.

 

 

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