The state health care exchanges, the heart of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, went online Tuesday, offering people who don’t have insurance a chance to obtain coverage over the next six months. In Georgia, however, critics accuse state leaders of doing all they can to make the exchange fail.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens didn’t seem to dispute that last month during a political gathering in Rome.
“The problem is Obamacare,” Hudgens told the friendly, chuckling crowd. “We’ve got to now determine what we can do to solve that problem. Let me tell you what we’re doing: everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”
For instance, Hudgens pointed out, the new insurance exchanges have customer service representatives called “navigators.” While Hudgens can regulate who becomes a navigator and can set forth conditions for their employment, federal law says candidates don’t have to be insurance agents.
However, Hudgens told the crowd he did the next best thing possible.
“Basically, you take the insurance agent’s test, you erase the name (“insurance agent” and) you write ‘navigator’ on there,” he said amid laughs from the crowd.
“It is quite frustrating,” said navigator candidate Bill Renner, who works for an organization called Georgia Watch. “It is quite difficult. It’s unfortunate that this has become a political issue.” Renner said he’s been studying online for the test, which he said includes a number of issues that are completely unrelated to his duties as a navigator. It is clear, he said, that those items are intended for insurance agents rather than those facilitating the state’s health insurance exchange program.
Shepherd Spinal and Brain Center physician Ford Vox called interference by Hudgens and Gov. Nathan Deal in the health exchange process “dangerous,” suggesting that the economic impact of such opposition will far outweigh the benefits.
“Ralph Hudgens has made it clear that he’s decided to make a crass political obstructionist move… to prevent the poorest citizens of this state from obtaining insurance,” Dr. Vox said. “Without Obamacare in Georgia, risk-takers, entrepreneurs and other creative people aren’t going to want to come here.”
The federal government has paid for approximately 100 navigators to work with those in Georgia who need assistance understanding the new program and making the best choices for insuring themselves and their families under the new law requiring all Americans have health coverage. On Tuesday, the day the Georgia exchange opened, there were only four. Twenty-three others have been training, but have yet to obtain work clearances from Hudgens’ office.