Healthcare 'Navigators' cause controversy in Florida - WFLA News Channel 8

Healthcare 'Navigators' cause controversy in Florida

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Tensions over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are surfacing again in Florida – this time in connection with the so-called "Navigators."

As part of the roll-out of the new "health insurance marketplace," these Navigators are scheduled to be put in place in communities across the country to help people wade through the new system and choose health care coverage.

Now Florida's Department of Health says the Navigators can't operate inside county health departments, limiting where they can reach and meet with people.

A letter to county health officers across the state said county health departments could receive materials from Navigators, but "Navigators will not conduct activities on the grounds of the health departments."

In Pinellas County, the decision prompted concern after the county received a $600,000 grant to put the Navigators in place. The county was planning to work with the health department to hire them.

"I'm very disappointed in this decision," said Ken Welch, chair of the Pinellas County Commission. "I think it's another round in the fight over Obamacare, but at the local level we're just concerned with getting good health care and information to all of our citizens."

Welch also called it "raw political partisan politics."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor referred to it as an "absurd state pronouncement that health navigators are barred from local health departments" and wrote a letter to the Florida state surgeon general and the governor.

In an email on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health said the Navigator program "has raised privacy concerns due to the consumer information that will be gathered for use in a federal database."

That's also the issue that Florida Gov. Rick Scott raised when asked about the Navigator issue on Thursday.

"What I'm concerned with is the privacy issue, what are they going to have and how are they going to use it?" he said.

Late Thursday, Pinellas County officials said they believe Navigators will ultimately be able to be in local health department buildings there because they are actually "county facilities" and on county land.

Asked about the situation in Pinellas, a state DOH spokesman did not confirm that, but said,  "Department of Health staff may provide information and materials that direct people to get further assistance from the federal Navigators program. However the Navigators will not conduct activities within secure Department facilities."

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