Off course: The navigator bill isn’t about helping consumers

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Talk about losing your moral compass. Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg want to make life difficult for so-called navigators who work for the federal government to advise residents about the Affordable Care Act.

It’s bad enough that Pennsylvania has failed to set up its own state insurance marketplace and has so far failed to extend Medicaid coverage to poor people under the new law. It is worse that the detestation of what conservatives derisively call Obamacare animates their attempts to hamstring the health care law by any means.

Not that proponents of restrictions or regulations on navigators are forthright about their motives. Sen. Don White, a Republican from Indiana who is chairman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee, which Wednesday held a hearing on a navigator bill, says the proposed legislation is about protecting “consumers in the health insurance market.”

So why does Senate Bill 1268 seek to have navigators register with the state Insurance Department and pass a criminal background check? Are there problems? Not according to the Insurance Department’s Bureau of Licensing and Enforcement, which has met with navigators and reviewed their activities.

Moreover, if lawmakers are concerned about consumers, shouldn’t navigators be allowed to compare the relative merits of specific health plans for the people they are helping? That would be useful information. Instead, SB 1268 would limit navigators to dispensing general information.

No, it is ideology, not the consumer, that this proposal wants to serve. Its proponents want to be able to say that Obamacare is a failure after layering on bureaucratic obstacles to help make it fail. That has been the game plan across the country in the 25 other states that have enacted such legislation.

Pennsylvania lawmakers need to mind their own business and let the federal government mind its business, especially since the federal government is helping uninsured Pennsylvanians get coverage, which is more than can be said for their Republican leaders in Harrisburg.

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