January 6, 2014
Jan. 6th, 2014
Good morning, Commissioner Rathgeber and Assistant General Counsel, John Carter. Thank you for scheduling this second public hearing in response to my request for it. There remain a number of questions which TDI has yet to answer and the people deserve another opportunity to be heard on this important issue.
First, I want to be very clear about avoiding the political straw men in this this conversation.
Texans support common-sense requirements such as criminal background checks for navigators. The bill I authored in the legislative session allowing for navigator regulations prohibits convicted felons from providing these services. Of course the state should enforce that provision and protect consumers. We shouldn’t have electioneering; my bill prevents that too. And we need to be sure we protect privacy.
We are all in agreement that these requirements are paramount to protecting consumers – that’s why we put them in the bill.
But my bill authorizes TDI to create regulations that protect the state from bad actors without making it harder for navigators to do their jobs. Remember the purpose clause of SB 1795: the purpose of this chapter is to provide a state solution to ensure that Texans are able to find and apply for affordable health coverage under any federally run health benefit exchange, while helping consumers in this state.
Your goal is to help ensure that Texans are able to find and apply for affordable coverage under the federally run exchange. Remember, those in control of the capital have chosen not to have a Texas exchange, creating the need for SB 1795.
The vast majority of healthcare navigators, as you can see and have seen from the testimony you received on September 30, 2013 and most recently on December 20, are honest folks who are working hard, and in good faith, to connect their fellow Texans with health insurance.
TDI has yet to provide justification for why it has gone as far as it has with these rules.
On December 20, I and several other senators submitted a letter to you in which we requested explanations to very specific questions. The people of Texas deserve answers to these questions. They deserve to know why some of these proposed rules are so far-reaching.
What’s very troubling to me is that my office asked when we might expect answers to these questions. We were told that an email you sent on December 23 was a reply. But that so-called reply reads as an acknowledgement of receiving the letter – not as a response to it. In fact, you seem to suggest you will answer these questions in the final rule order. With all due respect, Commissioner, that’s inappropriate. As I stressed in my September 30 testimony to you, because this issue has been so politicized, people have reason—even an obligation to be skeptical. So process matters here.
Your process – your refusal to answer critical questions prior to the final rule order – leaves no opportunity to discuss fallacies or poor decisions before the proposed rules are final. More importantly, it robs Texans of a transparent, accountable process and avoids a fair debate on the issue.
So, what are the questions that haven’t been answered?
Under your proposed rules, navigators must comply with many of the rules’ requirements by March 1, 2014. Assuming this rule becomes effective in early February, navigators and navigator organizations will have only about a month to come into compliance.
Given that the open enrollment period for people seeking coverage in 2014 ends on March 31, I fear that many navigator entities will face significant problems in meeting your proposed rules without compromising their ability to help Texans secure health care. I respectfully request that you postpone the compliance deadline until after the open enrollment period ends.
And although the training requirements for TDI-certified courses are not applicable until May 1, 2014, I question how many companies will be able to set up the training and examination requirements precisely as you’ve laid out in the proposed rules. An open and transparent process shouldn’t result in a product that only a certain business or type of business can provide.
People have a right to question whether the timing, combined with the extremely expanded training requirement that doesn’t seem capable of justification other than because the Governor suggested it, might be to benefit a private provider of training. Perhaps one that already has a contract with the state. This would put public money that should be going to help people get health coverage in a private enterprise’s hands. Again, with no justification.
I respectfully request that you delay the implementation of the state training requirements until the universe of potential providers can be better assessed.
We still have time to do this right. You still have the opportunity to strike the appropriate balance between two equally important responsibilities: protecting consumers, and ensuring Texans have access to the health insurance that’s right for them.
I urge you to provide answers to the questions raised by members of the Senate on December 20 and to do so before you finalize this rule.