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Florida Dems decry ‘spiteful’ ban on Obamacare helpers at county health sites

Florida Democrats in Congress are denouncing a rule issued by their state's health department that bans "navigators" who will help people understand the health care law from working at county health care properties.

"This announcement from the Florida Department of Health is the latest attempt by Republicans in Florida to create roadblocks to successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and eight other members of the state's delegation. "To ban Navigators from utilizing county health centers to assist uninsured people signing up for health insurance is simply unconscionable."

Local health offices will be allowed to distribute brochures and other information upon request, but Florida officials did not want navigators operating at the sites because they do not act on behalf of the state, and Gov. Rick Scott and state Attorney General Pam Bondi have express privacy concerns about in-person assisters who will help people sign up for health coverage under the health care law, The Associated Press reported.

Democrats, however, lambasted the move as another GOP-led attempt to hinder President Obama's signature health overhaul.

"We call on Gov. Scott and the Florida Department of Health to put Floridians first and lift this harmful, spiteful ban immediately," they said.

Navigators and other in-person assisters have been the source of partisan controversy.

Democrats and other Obamacare supporters say they are necessary to help people wade through the complex health care law.

But Republicans say the federal government should not be handing out millions in grant to organizations without more checks in place to ensure the security of enrollees' health information.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be turning up the heat on Florida in the coming days, citing the legislature's reluctance to expand Medicaid enrollment under the law and other limits on implementation.

"Since the state is doing everything in its power to make it more difficult for families to access coverage, we are doubling down on our efforts to reach Floridians to ensure they know the truth about the benefits that they are entitled to and how to access the coverage they need," HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

"The Secretary will spend the next three business days in Florida, and alongside a broad coalition of local partners, will speak directly to Floridians to ensure they have the facts they need to get affordable health insurance for their families," she said.

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