Court rules federal law overrides some Missouri restrictions of health insurance navigators

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — An appeals court ruled Friday that Missouri can't limit health insurance navigators' ability to help people obtain insurance under President Barack Obama's health care law — a ruling that advocates say could have implications for other states that have instituted similar restrictions.

The 8th Circuit Court in St. Louis blocked some parts of a Missouri law that limits the information certified counselors authorized by the health care law could give people seeking health insurance. However, the court said the state can institute licensure requirements for navigators and counselors.

At issue was a 2013 Missouri law that had set limitations on people helping others to sign up for health insurance. The court ruled that those limitations conflict with federal rules that supersede them.

"The court made clear that consumer assisters in Missouri are unrestricted by those provisions and they can help enroll people in health insurance," said Jay Angoff, a lawyer in the case who used to oversee implementation of the health care law for the federal government.

The Missouri law had been on hold since January 2014 while courts considered the matter.

The court blocked a prohibition on navigators or certified application counselors giving advice on health plans or discussing health plans not listed on the federal healthcare.gov website. The court's decision also blocks a requirement for counselors to direct consumers who have had insurance through an agent or broker to talk to an insurance provider instead.

Those requirements would have limited the help community groups could provide to people trying to sign up for health insurance, Angoff said.

Dale Wrigley, the director of engagement and advocacy for the St. Louis Effort for AIDS, one of the parties in the lawsuit, said there were concerns that they would not even have been able to tell people eligible for Medicaid to apply for it because that might qualify as advice.

"There were questions of whether we would've been able to give that advice on whether doctors were included in a plan," he said.

Friday's decision was specific to Missouri's law, but Angoff said at least a dozen other states have enacted at least one similar limitation on the health care law.

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster's office, said the attorney general would talk to bipartisan leadership before determining the next step in the case.

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