Lee and Collier Health Departments to Uphold Ban on ‘Obamacare’ Navigators

Sep 17, 2013

The Florida Department of Health won’t let ‘Obamacare’ navigators help people sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act on any county health department property.  However, the Tampa Bay Times reported Pinellas County officials may have found a loophole.  Since health department buildings in Pinellas are on county property, officials say the state can’t dictate whether or not Federal navigators can work there.  The Departments of Health in Lee and Collier Counties don’t plan to follow Pinellas County’s example. 

Just like in Pinellas county, in Lee, health department property is owned by the county or leased by outside corporations and not owned by the state, but Lee County Health Department spokeswoman Diane Holm points out that health departments in every Florida county are state agencies required to follow state departmental policy.

“Normal departmental practice dictates that we do not allow outside organizations to access department of health office space and information technology system to conduct activities,” said Holm.  “I don’t think there’s anything specific that would keep them out over anyone else.  It’s maintaining that consistency so that all organizations and materials are falling under the same category.”  Holm also echoed State Department of Health officials’ concerns about protecting patient privacy.

In Collier County, health department services don’t include primary care.  That’s why spokeswoman Deb Milsap says she doesn’t think the health department is where people will be going for guidance on signing up for coverage on the online health exchanges. 

“The thought is, it makes most sense that the navigators will be wherever people seek primary care right now,” said Milsap.  “That could be in emergency rooms, it could be in the federally qualified healthcare centers like Health Care Network of Southwest Florida.”

Milsap said that exactly where navigators will set up shop in Collier County remains to be determined.

Federal Health and Human Service Officials along with supporters of the Affordable Care Act have been critical of the directive barring navigators from health department sites in Florida. An estimated 3.2 million uninsured Floridians will be eligible to buy coverage once the new health insurance marketplace opens October 1st.