Local 205 & Members File Federal Lawsuit Defending Free Speech & Affordable Health Care in TN

For Immediate Release:

SEIU Local 205 and two public employees filed a lawsuit in Federal court challenging Tennessee’s issuance of unduly restrictive rules regulating “navigator” activities, which were filed and adopted less than two weeks before the roll out of the Affordable Care Act. The new state requirements put at risk friends, family members, caregivers, church volunteers, and many others who might provide friends and neighbors with information – even informally – about the new, lower-cost healthcare options now available on the new health marketplaces.

Recent polls show the vast majority of Americans do not understand the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and it remains a source of mystery for far too many Tennesseans. Other states have encouraged librarians, educators, doctors and nurses to share the facts about the new marketplaces that opened on October 1 to increase knowledge of the law, but the state’s emergency rules do the exact opposite. It applies an overly broad definition of the term “navigator” – which is a term of art under the law that refers to individuals and organizations that have received government grants to assist in enrollment for healthcare coverage — to anyone who takes part in, or facilitates, public education about the new marketplaces or the insurance plans available. Current state rules require that navigators get fingerprinted, complete a criminal background check, register with a state agency, and limit the kind of assistance they provide to consumers. If a person provides consumer assistance without satisfying these requirements, state officials can fine them up to $1,000 for each violation.

“I already assist my clients on how to enroll for benefit programs like TennCare and S.N.A.P. and I shouldn’t have to be worried about big fines from the state for doing my job,” says Trumeko Foxx, a home care provider for Metro Social Services who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Exie Harrington, another plaintiff in the suit, is a circulation assistant working for the Nashville Public Library and frequently assists library visitors who need help accessing the internet and locating information on various websites. “Our staff already has rules about what we can and can’t do to help the public access state or federal programs,” Exie says. “These new rules from the state are unnecessary and it isn’t fair to put librarians or anyone else at risk for helping people find a website for a legitimate resource.”

The lawsuit alleges that the current law:

  • Violates federal and state constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of association because it curtails First Amendment rights due to the threat of being subjected to considerable fines and penalties;
  • Is not valid because family members, friends, neighbors or healthcare workers are not “navigators” as defined by the law;
  • Would prevent people like nurses, doctors or homecare workers like the plaintiff, from assisting people with disabilities without undergoing the state’s onerous registration process, and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“These political games make for good theater in Washington D.C., but here in Tennessee, we are talking about people’s lives,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. “People are fed up with the political stunts over the healthcare law. It is the law of the land and state government needs to get out of the way and allow uninsured Tennesseans to get the information they need to make informed choices about their families’ health and well-being.”

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