Strict navigator laws impede consumer access to insurance

Insurers face an uphill battle in states that have passed laws limiting how navigators can help consumers learn about and buy insurance. Those states' navigator laws have a chilling effect on outreach efforts, thereby compromising consumers' ability to enroll in plans sold on health insurance exchanges, according to a new study from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Some of the most restrictive laws, passed in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, require navigators to undergo extra training and testing requirements and pay fees before they can obtain a state license, USA Today reported.

Only 59 percent of navigators working in these states were determining consumer eligibility for insurance coverage, compared to 79 percent of navigators working in states fully implementing healthcare reform. Additionally, navigators and community health centers in restrictive states had significantly fewer outreach and enrollment resources and enrollment staff, the study found.

"These findings show the effects of state policies that are designed to stand in the way of health reform," study co-author Sara Rosenbaum said in a statement. "These restrictive policies are measurably impairing community-level efforts to cover the uninsured."

Rosenbaum said the "big smoking gun" is navigators' ability to help consumers choose a health plan. "There is a highly significant difference between the restrictive states and the non-restrictive states in community enrollment assisters who are actually helping people figure out the health plans," she told NBC News.

"When you change the policy environment and put the brakes on things, it really trickles down to the community," Rosenbaum added.

To learn more:
- here's the statement and study (.pdf)
- read the USA Today article
- see the NBC News article

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