Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) -- A Missouri law requiring licenses for counselors who help consumers find health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges was temporarily blocked by a U.S. judge, setting back a measure by a state hostile to the federal health- care overhaul statute.
U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith in Jefferson City, Missouri, said the state, which declined to establish its own exchange, was barred from interfering with a program set up under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Missouri is among at least a dozen Republican-led states that imposed restrictions on insurance exchange counselors, known as navigators, including licensing tests, fines as high as $1,000 and training that almost doubles the hours required by the government. The ruling was the first of its kind in a navigator case and calls into question the constitutionality of similar laws elsewhere, said Jay Angoff, an attorney with Washington-based Mehri & Skalet PLLC, which represented the Missouri groups.
“Missouri’s attempts to obstruct the Affordable Care Act with unnecessary and burdensome navigator requirements are simply preempted by federal law,” wrote Jane Perkins, an attorney for nonprofit groups that sued the state, in a statement. “On this the court is clear: federally funded navigators must be able to exercise the duties they are funded to do under federal law.”
Republicans have said the measures are aimed at protecting consumers, given the personal information they must handle in this role. Obamacare supporters have said the measures are designed to undermine efforts to sign up the uninsured.
The Obama administration awarded $67 million in grants last year to 105 hospitals, social-service agencies, local clinics and other groups meant to help steer people through the complexities of the new insurance system, with its deductibles, copays, provider networks and tax credits.
“Having made the choice to leave the operation of the exchange to the federal government, Missouri cannot choose to impose additional requirements or limitations on the exchange,” Smith wrote yesterday in granting a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement of the law by the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration.
The state is reviewing the decision, Nanci Gonder, a press secretary to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement.
The case is St. Louis Effort for AIDS v. Huff, 13-cv-4246, U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri (Jefferson City).
--Editors: Fred Strasser, Bruce Rule