COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — New state restrictions have barred a Cincinnati hospital from accepting federal money to help sign people up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Children’s Hospital Medical Center had planned to enroll the uninsured through its inner-city location and two satellite offices. But the hospital recently notified the Obama administration that it couldn’t take the $124,419 grant to be a so-called navigator because changes in Ohio law made it ineligible, said hospital spokesman Terry Loftus.
The hospital is among a few navigator grantees that have notified the U.S. Health and Human Services Department that they wouldn’t be taking the money.
“Navigators” are a new group of professionals under the federal law who will be available to help to the more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans gain coverage.
Navigators can advise people on whether they’d be eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled. But they are banned in Ohio from selling, soliciting and negotiating health insurance under the state’s law. They also can’t offer advice about which health benefit plan is better, worse or suitable for a person.
They are particularly important to the law’s success in Republican-led states such as Ohio, where state officials are taking a hands-off approach to promoting the law.
The grant to Children’s Hospital was a small portion of the $3 million the state is getting from the federal government for navigators. Almost $2 million was awarded to a food bank association and its partners.
Ohio and other states have sought additional regulations for navigators, including required background checks, training and certification.
A state law that took effect in July bars as navigators any organization that takes payments from insurers who have health plans in the new insurance market, or exchange.
The change meant the Cincinnati hospital had to forgo the federal money, Loftus said.
Despite losing out on the award, the hospital will continue to enroll uninsured children in Medicaid and help patients through its financial counseling office.
“We do all we can to assist patient families with their financial and insurance questions and concerns,” Loftus said in an email. “That won’t change.”
Messages about the state law also were left with two other Ohio grantees — the Neighborhood Health Association in northwest Ohio, and the Clermont Recovery Center in Batavia.
The sponsor of the Ohio law said the provision on taking payments from insurers was meant to diminish potential conflicts of interest.
State Rep. Barbara Sears, a Toledo-area Republican, said she wanted to keep hospitals from steering patients toward health plans that they get money from.
“There was this concern that you would not be looking at the plan specific to the person’s needs, but the plan that could potentially fit your needs,” she said in an interview.
Consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the government, through the online exchanges. Open enrollment starts Oct. 1 and coverage takes effect in January.
People also can apply for coverage online, through a call center, in person, or on paper without the help of a navigator.