PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The so-called navigators who help uninsured people sign up for insurance under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul would be regulated under a bill in the South Dakota Legislature.
The sponsor, Sen. Al Novstrup, acknowledges that he opposes the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. But the Aberdeen Republican said supporters of the health care law might also support his proposal because it provides additional protection for people seeking insurance.
"The main thing we're asking them to do is register. Let us know who they are. Let us have the ability to do a background check if we choose to," Novstrup said. "If I'm handing over my date of birth and my Social Security number, I might want to know if that person is a felon or not.
But critics of Novstrup's bill and similar efforts in other states have said such regulations are designed to add red tape that will hinder efforts to enroll people for insurance policies available through online marketplaces called exchanges.
"This is clearly an attempt to block fair implementation of the ACA," Jonathan Gruber, an economist at MIT who helped design the health overhaul law, said in an email message. "There is no reason other than denying insurance coverage to state residents to impose these requirements."
Novstrup's bill would require the state Insurance Division to register navigators, make sure they have completed training and check whether they have been convicted of crimes. Registration would cost $50.
The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee has not set a hearing date for the bill.
Kim Jones, coordinator of the South Dakota Navigator Coalition, said navigators educate people about options and obligations in the new health insurance market and help people sign up for insurance policies. She works with 19 navigators in her organization.
The navigator program is overseen by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the federal government has provided grants to nonprofit organizations in South Dakota and other states to sign up navigators to help uninsured people.
Jones said she thinks current navigators have adequate training, though she would comply with any new regulations.
"It would make the process a bit more complicated," Jones said. "It's not for me to say whether it's necessary or not."
Novstrup said he hopes the program would pay for itself with the registration fees.
"We're doing a very minimal amount of regulation, and that minimal amount of regulation should cost a very small amount," Novstrup said.
House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill but has since decided that he won't vote for it.
The Democrat from Yankton said he recently worked with a navigator to set up insurance for his business.
"I think it's unnecessary regulation, the more I learn about it," Hunhoff said. "We're all trying to keep government simple and reduce duplication and unnecessary paperwork and regulations. This seems to be just an unnecessary burden on the whole system. "
Novstrup said he decided to propose the measure after reading that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had said the federal government does not require background checks for health care navigators, but the states could do so.
"Secretary Sebelius handed us the particular responsibility to make sure that that particular profession was registered or regulated and licensed," Novstrup said.