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I don't make a practice of passing on stuff out of pols' newsletters, but I think this from Sen. Kirk Watson is kind of important (Watson does not represent me, more's the pity, I'm just on his list).

His newsletter starts out with some misguided remarks about the recent success of the Baylor football team.  Nobody's perfect.  But then he moves on to healthcare, and highlights that we still have a very serious Rick Perry problem.

The story is beneath the fleur-de-kos, and the most important part is the less than fortuitously scheduled public hearing.

Healthcare help

There’s no great way to transition from this happy subject to a, well, less-happy subject, but I need to write this week about healthcare in Texas. So instead of comparing those in control of the Capitol to hapless Baylor teams of old, I guess I’ll just get on with it.

You may recall that a couple of months back, the Governor decided that one of Texas’ biggest problems was a group of folks who are spending their workdays helping our fellow Texans sign up for health insurance.

Yes, the man who spends so much of his time decrying burdensome government regulations was proposing burdensome government regulations that, in some cases, seemed designed to make life as hard as possible on these “healthcare navigators,” not protect the Texans who need healthcare.

I have no idea how the Governor decided it was a good idea to wage a political battle designed to make it harder for people to sign up for health insurance. I also have no idea why he isn’t more concerned about the state’s dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation.

But the raw politics that he and others play when it comes to getting people healthcare requires us all to be skeptical of their actions and things like this set of proposed rules.

Burdensome government regulations

I’d hoped our Insurance Commissioner would reject the political pressure and avoid needless, expensive, burdensome regulations that will keep Texans from finding the reliable healthcare they need.

Well, the Texas Department of Insurance's proposed rules on healthcare navigators came out last week ... with an ample helping of politics.

Among other things, the rules would charge navigators fees, even though these folks are prohibited from charging for their own services. They’d jack up training requirements by as much as 200 percent. And without satisfactory justification, the rules would force navigators to prove financial responsibility in what appear to be highly burdensome and unnecessary ways.

The good news is that there’ll be a hearing on the proposed rules in Room 100 of the Hobby Building at 333 Guadalupe in Downtown Austin.

The bad news is that the hearing will be the morning of Dec. 20 – the Friday before the Christmas holidays and just three days before an important federal deadline that these navigators will be busy trying to help people meet.

Almost seems like they don’t want you to show up, doesn’t it?

I’ve requested that the Commissioner wait until after the holidays to hold this very important hearing. We’ll see what happens.
Hindrance, not help

Some of these proposals are so over-the-top that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial this weekend blasting the effects that they’d have on groups like the United Way of Tarrant County, which is helping people in that community sign up for health insurance (the United Way for Greater Austin is doing much the same thing here).

The editorial said the new rules could cost at least $90, and potentially quite a bit more, for every navigator. That’s real money for folks who aren’t supposed to be collecting any from the people they serve.

As for the additional 40 hours of training, the editorial notes, “every hour that navigators spend in extra classes is time that could have been spent working for Texans who need help.”

“There are more than 6 million uninsured Texans,” it reads. “The proposed additional state rules look like more of a hindrance than a help in addressing this need.”

Do the right thing

I passed a bill during the regular legislative session to protect consumers in real, effective ways without making it harder for Texans to find health insurance. An appropriate balance is possible.

Some of the proposed rules are consistent with that. And it’s worth noting that some of the Governor’s most ridiculous requests didn’t make it into this rules proposal.

But it’s unclear that the state has worked with the feds – as the law requires – to fix whatever deficiencies the state identifies in federal requirements. And it’s disappointing that officials didn’t so much as ask me to help resolve any honest discrepancies between state and federal regulations (I did carry the bill, after all, and I've offered to help them if they need it).

One way or another, the goal should never be to make it harder for Texans who need health insurance to get it.

And cloaking political attacks with claims of consumer protections won't make one Texan healthier.

Texas can do better when it comes to keeping our people healthy. It’s long past time to set politics aside and actually start trying to do better.

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