Marleau bill would require Obamacare ‘navigators’ to act in good faith

LANSING—State Sen. Jim Marleau introduced a measure Wednesday that would establish guidelines to protect Michigan residents when enrolling in health insurance through an insurance exchange.

Marleau, chair of the Senate Committee on Health Policy, said the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) allows states to license “navigators” to assist people enrolling in health insurance through an exchange. Senate Bill 324 would ensure that navigators in Michigan act in good faith.

“We must make sure our residents are protected both from bad behavior as well as from incompetence,” said Marleau, R-Lake Orion. “My bill establishes safeguards to keep navigators honest and to ensure they know what they’re doing.”

Marleau emphasized that the federal rules are not finalized, but the bill was introduced to start a discussion about how the state can ensure residents are protected.

“This is the start of the discussion, but our time to act is limited since residents plan to start shopping on Michigan’s insurance exchange in October,” he said.

SB 324 will protect Michigan residents by registering navigators, requiring background checks on them and ensuring they are professionally trained according to minimum standards for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act training.

“Navigators may be assisting our most vulnerable residents or helping people in their homes,” Marleau said. “Not just anybody can do this.”

SB 324 will also:
•    Prevent conflicts of interest. Under Marleau’s measure, navigators cannot receive any compensation from a health insurer or subsidiary and must give impartial information on health plan costs and benefits;
•    Protect insurance agents. The legislation clearly defines that navigators cannot sell or transact insurance; and
•    Remain revenue neutral. The Department of Insurance and Financial Services may charge a fee to cover the cost of implementing and administering the program.

State Rep. Hugh Crawford, who has introduced similar legislation in the House, said it is paramount that the state establish the registration process to protect Michigan residents.

“The federal health exchange and these navigators are coming to our state, so we must make sure the best interests of Michiganders are kept in mind,” said Crawford, R-Novi. “We need to ensure that when they arrive these workers are registered with the state and play by the rules.”

SB 324 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.