AMOUNT THE STATE OF FLORIDA RECEIVED IN FEDERAL GRANTS FROM THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES IN 2009
AMOUNT HHS IS POURING INTO THE STATE TO FUND THE NAVIGATOR PROGRAM DESIGNED TO ASSIST THE UNINSURED WITH FINDING INSURANCE COVERAGE ON THE FEDERAL MARKETPLACE AFTER OCT. 1
NUMBER OF UNINSURED RESIDENTS IN FLORIDA
“LIKE SIMILAR REQUESTS FROM ORGANIZATIONS SEEKING ACCESS TO WORK INSIDE COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENTS IN THE PAST, [THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH’S] POLICY REMAINS CONSISTENT THAT OUR STAFF MAY ACCEPT THE ORGANIZATION’S MATERIALS AND FORWARD ANY REQUEST FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION TO THAT ENTITY. HOWEVER, NAVIGATORS WILL NOT CONDUCT ACTIVITIES ON THE GROUNDS OF HEALTH DEPARTMENTS.”
– DEPUTY DOH SECRETARY FOR STATEWIDE SERVICES C. MEADE GRIGG
SOURCES: Orange County Department of Health, Health News Florida, Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research
It’s a good thing that hypocrisy isn’t a flesh-eating disease, because the Florida Department of Health would likely be seeking some substantial bone cover after last week’s unexpected dive into bacterial politics. By now the whole state is aware that Gov. Rick Scott and anyone attached to his administrative tentacles are hell-bent on drowning the state’s uninsured in a rhetorical pool of states’ rights and drummed-up conspiracy theories about Obamacare. Them so-called “Navigators” hired by the federal government to “educate” the uninsured better get piss tests, because by Scott’s (and Attorney General Pam Bondi’s) wisdom, the whole thing is a ploy for identity theft by miscreants. You hear that, grandma?
But, while we’re used to hearing the nasty playground shouts from our elected nightmares, we weren’t expecting the typically silent Florida DOH to weigh in. That agency, we thought, was too busy actually helping the state’s 3.8 million uninsured residents to maintain some level of modest health, tending to epidemiology concerns and fighting STDs. Nope. On Sept. 9, DOH heavyweight C. Meade Grigg sent out a memo to the county health departments instructing them to basically ignore – and flat-out prohibit – the presence of Navigators on health department premises. In other words (once again with feeling), Obamacare isn’t happening (here).
“Navigators are not acting on behalf of the Department of Health and this program has raised privacy concerns due to the consumer information that will be gathered for use in a federal database,” DOH communications director Nathan Dunn wrote in the email delivering Grigg’s letter. Never mind that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly gone on record refuting this. Never mind that there is no magical database. Cue further HHS outrage.
“This is another blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance option and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years,” HHS spokesman Fabien Levy said, according to the Miami Herald.
And herein lies the problem. The Florida DOH, ostensibly a sickly appendage of Scott’s administration, is seemingly pretending that it is above federal law – this despite the fact that the state receives billions from the federal government for health services annually, and the Florida DOH is even linked from the federal HHS website. While the Navigator program may seem new and confusing in the bureaucratic sense – as in, “We’ve never seen these folks before” – the DOH has a stated mission to “protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida.” How does holding your nose and establishing impediments to the sharing of information accomplish that?
In some cases, this is just screwing up an already hurried plan (thanks to Florida dragging its feet on Obamacare implementation). Pinellas County won a $600,000 Navigator grant, and was already partnering with the local health department to optimize the program. Now there will have to be an unnecessary workaround.
“It’s really sad and disappointing to see once again our Tallahassee leadership just determined to politicize health care,” Pinellas County Commission chairman Ken Welch told public radio affiliate WJCT. “I’m hoping cooler heads are going to prevail. It makes no sense.”
Retired Pasco County health director Dr. Marc Yacht took the anger further, saying that the new policy will “significantly compromise a multitude of needy Floridians from getting health care,” according to Health News Florida, adding that the move was “cruel and irresponsible.”
Closer to home, Orange County Health Department spokesman Dain Weister couldn’t comment on the motivations for the statewide mandate (“You’ll have to ask Tallahassee,” he says), but he does point to some gray areas in which the county health department will likely be rubbing elbows with Navigators anyway. There are two sites where OCHD is co-located with federally approved medical centers, which are exempt from Grigg’s Scott-fed edict. Also, OCHD collaborates with the county-funded Primary Care Access Network, which is slated to assist with Obamacare outreach. So it really is just a political thing when it comes down to the actual human level. Your chocolate will likely still get in our peanut butter, only it will be more difficult to achieve and less effective.
“The bottom line with this, from our standpoint, is that we’re still going to be allowed to give out the information and materials, coupling people up with the Navigators,” Weister says. “They just have concerns about privacy.”
Sure they do.