A bill requiring background and credit checks for the navigators who help people sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act won initial approval in the Kansas Senate on Tuesday.
Republican supporters say Senate Bill 362 would ensure that consumers can trust the people with whom they are share sensitive health information.
But Democrats say the bill is a politically motivated attack on the health care act and would make it more difficult to sign up Kansans for coverage.
“The federal government ignored protection of the consumer and left them open to serious risks of fraud and identity theft,” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, who carried the legislation.
She cited an October report from the conservative news site the Daily Caller that a navigator in Lawrence had an outstanding arrest warrant.
Pilcher-Cook also cited testimony from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee in November, in which she said it would be possible for a convicted felon to be hired as a navigator.
“We have contracts with the organizations, and they have taken the responsibility to screen their navigators and make sure that they are sufficiently trained for the job, and there’s a self-attestation, but it is possible,” Sebelius said in November.
But Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said last week that if the bill’s intent was solely to protect consumers, it would merely require a background check and not a credit check, which she said is invasive.
The bill also requires navigators to pay an application fee of $100 and an annual filing fee of $250. Kelly said these provisions are meant to discourage people from becoming navigators.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Kelly noted that most navigators in the state are with the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, which already requires background checks and is trusted by the state to sign people up for KanCare. She called the bill absolutely unnecessary.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said health care experts have said the bill will make it more difficult to sign up people for coverage.
“This is a political statement. That’s what this bill is,” he said.
Pilcher-Cook noted that Sebelius has said states are free to regulate navigators. But Democrats noted that a federal judge granted an injunction in January to prevent Missouri from enforcing a law similar to the one Pilcher-Cook is proposing.