Illegal to Talk About Healthcare in Missouri? Healthcare Advocates File Suit

| by Allison Geller

The state of Missouri has gone to extreme measures to stop the Affordable Care Act from being implemented. Now physicians and community organizations are filing a lawsuit claiming that Missouri’s policies violate federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Missouri’s “Health Insurance Marketplace Innovation Act of 2013” states that healthcare navigators, who are trained and certified by the federal government to help people in the community find insurance plans, cannot offer “advice concerning the benefits, terms, and features of a particular health plan.”

MSNBC reported that in addition to subjecting navigators to prohibitive regulations, Missouri’s policy also states that navigators cannot talk about other plans people might be qualified for, if they are sold outside of the state’s federally-operated insurance exchange.

Furthermore, the Missouri law prohibits anyone, not just navigators, from sharing health insurance tips without getting licensed as a navigator. Effectively, talking about healthcare, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that the laws “directly conflict” with the federal Affordable Care Act, putting groups like the nonprofit St. Louis Effort for AIDS and Missouri Jobs with Justice in an “untenable position,” restricting their constitutional rights to free speech, AP reported via CBS Local St. Louis.

The law, signed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in July, was the initiative of insurance agents and brokers, who said that it would ensure that the healthcare information people received was correct and keep unqualified counselors from offering advice, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Missouri law requires navigators to advise people who bought their health insurance from an agent from the private market to consult with that agent, a protection against the ACA, which states that navigators must provide “impartial information” in order to “act in the best interest of the applicant.”

Missouri is one of 14 states that have passed restrictions on navigators’ abilities to execute the ACA. A similar lawsuit was filed in Tennessee earlier this year. The state had imposed similar restrictions to the rights of navigators, but was forced to drop them after health advocates filed suit in state and federal courts. A U.S. District Judge ruled that the rules likely violated both the First Amendment and the Affordable Care Act.

Sources: MSNBC, CBS Local, St. Louis Post-Dispatch