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Tennessee Backs Off ACA Restriction Following Home Care Worker’s Lawsuit

October 11, 2013

Tennessee emergency rules that regulate who can and cannot advise consumers about their coverage options through the new health insurance exchange appear to violate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled.

On October 7, U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell ordered a temporary restraining order against the state, preventing it from upholding its emergency rules.

In response, the state has said it will back off from the restrictions, “effectively fold[ing] its hand” on the issue, writes MSNBC’s Geoffrey Cowley.

The lawsuit, Harrington v. Haslam, was brought to federal court by two Nashville government workers: Trumeko Foxx, a home health worker, and Exie Harrington, a library circulation assistant.

Restricting Health Reform “Navigators”

Through the ACA, certain professional and nonprofit organizations received funding to train “navigators” who would be specially equipped to answer people’s questions about the state health insurance exchanges, which launched on October 1.

Under Tennessee’s emergency rules, however, those navigators were forbidden from discussing the “benefits, terms and features of a particular plan over any other health plans and offer advice about which health plan is better or worse or suitable for a particular individual or employer.”

The emergency rule would have had a “chilling effect” on navigators’ free-speech rights, said attorney Jerry Martin, who argued the suit in federal court on behalf of SEIU Local 205.

Redefining “Navigators”

In addition to restricting what navigators can say, Tennessee’s emergency rules also expanded the definition of “navigator” to mean “anyone who takes part in or facilitates public education about the new marketplaces or the insurance plans available,” according to an SEIU press release.

Therefore, under the terms of that rule, government workers such as Foxx and Harrington would be in violation of the law for helping clients or library patrons choose a health plan through the insurance exchange, even though they are not trained navigators.

“This is just natural for me; that’s what I do is help people,” Foxx told the Tennessean. “Me not being able to aid them, that’s an issue because some of them do not have any family. So, I’m all that they have coming in to help them.”

Violators of the emergency rules would have faced a $1,000 fine.

In addition to Tennessee, 14 other states (pdf) have imposed additional requirements on health care navigators, according to the advocacy group Health Care for America Now.

— by Matthew Ozga

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