Despite a federal court order against their current law, Missouri legislators voted Thursday to toughen requirements even further for people seeking to work as insurance guides under the healthcare reform law
A bill given final approval by the Republican-led Legislature would require criminal background checks for people applying for state licenses to help consumers sign up for health insurance through a federally run website. Anyone with past convictions involving fraud or dishonesty would be barred from the jobs.
Several other states also have enacted or are pursuing more stringent requirements on so-called navigators and counselors for the health insurance exchanges
Missouri's latest effort attracted bipartisan support, passing 27-3 on Thursday after clearing the House 133-14 on Wednesday.
Last year, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill requiring state licensure for the insurance guides. But U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith issued a preliminary injunction against it in January, saying it "constitutes an impermissible obstacle" to the federal law. He said the licensing requirement thus was pre-empted by the federal law under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, has appealed that decision. In a court brief filed earlier this month, Koster's office said the Missouri licensing requirement doesn't prevent the federal law from being carried out but instead is specifically allowed under a federal provision that requires insurance navigators to "meet any licensing, certification or other standards prescribed" by states.
Though sponsored by Republicans, the new Missouri bill requiring background checks gained support from numerous Democrats.
"I'm OK with some vetting of who the navigators are. It's just good public policy," said Democratic Rep. Jill Schupp, of suburban St. Louis.
Nixon has not said whether he will sign or veto the new legislation. He has until mid-July to make a decision.
Advocacy groups that have encouraged people to sign up for health insurance said the latest Missouri measure was unnecessary, saying there have been no reports of navigators with criminal records misleading their customers.
"It just is one more sign that they've got their priorities in the wrong place and they're focusing on the wrong things," said Jen Bersdale, executive director of Missouri Health Care for All, a St. Louis-based coalition that supports the federal healthcare law.
The coalition has urged Missouri lawmakers to expand Medicaid
eligibility for thousands of lower-income adults under a provision of the federal healthcare law that would result in billions of additional federal dollars for the state. But Republican lawmakers have repeatedly defeated attempts to expand Medicaid eligibility.