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Arizona bill would require background checks, more for health exchange navigators

PHOENIX -- Requiring background checks and state licensing for navigators and others helping Arizonans register for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act would guard against identity theft, a state lawmaker contends.

"I look at it as a consumer protection issue," said Rep. Phil Lovas (R-Peoria). "I think the state can handle that better than the federal government by licensing."

Lovas authored HB 2508, which among other provisions would also would require navigators to be fingerprinted, to pay a license fee and to pass an examination administered by the state Department of Insurance.

The House Insurance and Retirement Committee narrowly endorsed the measure Feb. 4, with all three Democratic members voting against.

Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson), said the federal government already offers safeguards when it comes the navigators helping people use the federal health exchange available to Arizonans.

"I don't see why we would take people who desire to be navigators and make them pay even more, why we're putting them through this battering ram of requirements to do this good job," Steele said.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis (D-Phoenix), another committee member, said that the state ceded oversight when it decided against setting up its own exchange.

"The intent of this bill is to obstruct the implementation of a federal law," she said.

Federally funded navigators and certified application counselors, or CACs, are trained to assist people, particularly members of underserved communities, in signing up for health insurance plans through the exchange. Under federal law, they aren't allowed to guide people toward specific insurance plans.

Supporters of Lovas' bill said Arizona should have a role in regulating how the Affordable Care Act works here.

Christina Corieri, health care policy analyst for the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise, referred to the navigator position as "an identity thief's dream job." She said not all navigator organizations do background checks of employees.

But Tara McCollum Plese, senior director for external affairs at the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, which received a $1.34 million federal grant to provide navigators, said the process rarely puts employees in a position to see personal information.

"Nine out of 10 times the certified application counselor or navigator never touches the keyboard," she said.

Rep. David Livington (R-Peoria), who voted for the measure, said Arizona needs to provide regulation.

"If anything I think this bill is too weak," he said.

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