BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — State lawmakers said Tuesday they are concerned about a shortage of people helping Louisiana residents sign up for new insurance options available under the federal health care law.
The worries came up as the House and Senate insurance committees approved state regulations to oversee four organizations splitting $1.8 million in federal grants to help with education and enrollment across the state.
Registration opens Oct. 1 for the thousands of people who don't get health insurance through work to shop for coverage through online marketplaces, called "exchanges." Federal subsidies will be available to many low- and middle-income families to help cover costs.
Two companies plan to sell insurance plans statewide through Louisiana's exchange: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the Louisiana Health Cooperative, a nonprofit whose chief executive is Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, chairman of the House Insurance Committee.
Vantage Insurance and Humana also will offer plans on the exchange in some parishes.
Lawmakers said many people will need assistance to wade through the complexities involved in shopping for insurance, and they said they don't believe the federal "navigator" grants will provide enough resources.
Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, questioned whether rural areas will have enough access to assistance. He pointed to estimates that it will take at least an hour per family to walk them through their options under the federal Affordable Care Act.
"You're going to have to have a lot of foot soldiers if you're going to meet the needs of our people," he said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to let the state run its own health insurance exchange, leaving it to federal officials to manage the online marketplace. Beyond the navigators, others will be providing information to the public about the insurance exchange.
Companies that are offering health insurance plans through the exchange will advertise them, insurance agents will have information and federally-qualified health centers around the state will be helping with enrollment. Organizations that help eligible people sign up for Medicaid and Medicare also will be providing information.
Ronnell Nolan, president of Health Insurance Agents for America, said her organization has been speaking to church groups, rotary clubs and other community organizations.
The largest slice of the navigator grant money in Louisiana, nearly $1.1 million, was awarded to the Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center.
Brian Burton, who is leading the navigator efforts for the agency, said the center will partner with similar health education centers around the state and will have 19 people working as navigators, to provide education and outreach, focusing on those who aren't tech-savvy and won't be able to walk through the enrollment process on their own.
"I just don't see where this dollar amount is going to satisfy enough people," said Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville.
Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, urged Burton to give lawmakers information about where to direct constituents who call with questions about the insurance exchange.
"In a lot of these cases, I think we'll be the first navigators they'll be talking to," said Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa.
State regulations for the navigator program, crafted by the Department of Insurance, largely mirror requirements in federal law. Unlike in some other states, Louisiana's regulations don't require navigators to complete additional training beyond what is mandated by federal officials.