|WESLACO, September 26 - In an editorial on Tuesday, the San Antonio Express-News argued that Gov. Rick Perry’s recent intervention into the “navigator” program was designed to derail the Affordable Care Act, “lest folks find out they like it and need it.”
If that is the case Perry may have succeeded in unhinging one of its tracks in the Rio Grande Valley.
On Wednesday, the board of directors of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the council of government for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, voted unanimously to pull out of a Memorandum of Understanding with United Way of Tarrant County that would have seen the COG’s Area Agency on Aging hire and train four promotoras.
The promotoras would have helped educate community groups about the new national health insurance marketplace and helped uninsured Valley residents find affordable health insurance plans. The marketplace opens for business on Oct. 1.
“We believe in the navigator program and everything looked good for us to participate. But, since the rules are changing and the Governor’s office is still negotiating changes it is not prudent for us to be signing on to the Tarrant County program because things aren’t settled yet,” Steve Brewer, the immediate past president of the LRGVDC, told the Guardian. “We do not want to be obligated to something that will change. It could mean more expense for us. It could mean we have greater liability. We need to be prudent. We need to wait until things are settled.” Brewer is a member of the LRGVDC’s executive committee.
In a Sept. 17 letter, Gov. Rick Perry instructed Texas Department of Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber to design new rules and regulations requiring more “rigorous training” for navigators. This training would be above and beyond the training already provided by the federal government. Perry also wants navigators to provide TDI with the names of those persons signed up for the federal health care exchange.
United Way of Tarrant County received a $5.9 million grant from the federal government to head a statewide “navigator” consortium. Along with 16 other subcontractors, United Way of Tarrant County plans to hire about 80 “navigators.” The consortium is known as CHIMES (Consumer Health insurance Marketplace Enrollment Services) and includes nine councils of government.
Under the MOU, the subcontractors would receive funds from United Way of Tarrant County in order to “prepare insurance applications (electronically and on paper), determine affordability program eligibility, and enroll in coverage.” The subcontractors will provide “outreach and education to raise awareness and refer to assistance programs when applicable.” The LRGVDC was set to receive $288,322 from United Way of Tarrant County for being a sub-contractor.
With LRGVDC pulling out, the CHIMES Consortium is now down to 15 members and more COGs could be pulling out, according to Ken Jones, executive director of the LRGVDC. At Wednesday’s board meeting, Jones said he had called around to see what other COGs were planning to do in the light of Gov. Perry’s intervention. Jones said he called six COGs in the consortium. One of them said it was staying in the consortium, one was pulling out, and four others were “leaning towards” pulling out, Jones told the LRGVDC board.
Interviewed after the board meeting, Jones said he believed in the health insurance marketplace. He said he hoped another entity in the Valley might pick up the slack and form an MOU with United Way of Tarrant County in order to access the $288,322 and provide services to help the Valley’s uninsured.
“We are not saying the navigator program is a bad thing. It is a good thing. It is a valuable program. It is just that at this point the potential financial liabilities are too high with some of the financial rules and regulations requirements have yet to be defined,” Jones told the Guardian. “It would be premature at this time to approve the MOU and initiate the expenditures without answers to all the questions about the new rules and regulations being set by TDI.”
The Guardian called Tim McKinney, president and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County for reaction to LRGVDC’s decision to pull out of the CHIMES Consortium. “I have not heard directly from them so I have no comment to make,” McKinney said.
Jones distributed an email he received from McKinney to the board during discussions about the United Way of Tarrant County’s MOU. The email, sent Sept. 24, clearly shows McKinney is concerned about the ramifications of LRGVDC pulling out of the consortium. Here is the email in full:
“I understand that the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is considering withdrawing from the CHIMES Consortium. Please consider that resigning from the consortium might possibly draw attention to your organization since the council was listed as a member of the consortium in the original media release.
“Since your organization signed the MOU in June to be included in the proposal, we have faced and overcome many obstacles together. Our goal remains to explain to a large percentage of our six million uninsured neighbors in Texas their options under the Affordable Care Act.
“The integrity of the CHIMES Consortium will be put at risk should your organization withdraw from the consortium with less than one week remaining until the enrollment period begins. I urge your organization to stand firm as a community leader and help implement the new law that will insure and benefit hundreds of thousands of our fellow Texans.”
The Guardian contacted the John Buckner, executive director of the Coastal Bend Council of Governments, to see if his organization was also pulling out of the CHIMES Consortium. Buckner did not return a call at press time.
(Editor's Note: Click here to read the San Antonio Express-News editorial cited in the above story.)