ST. LOUIS, Mo. —St. Louis Effort for AIDS, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri and a number of other assister organizations were successful in securing a favorable ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday regarding restrictions on enrollment assisters to advise uninsured consumers on their options through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
 
The eighth circuit court agreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments that Missouri lawmakers had improperly obstructed the federal government’s efforts to implement health care reform in the state.
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The law in dispute aims to prohibit Certified Application Counselors and Navigators from offering advice regarding benefits and features of coverage plans both on and off the Health Insurance Marketplace. 
 
In a first-of-its-kind case, consumer groups argued this regulation prohibited enrollment counselors from fulfilling their duties under the federal law – to successfully assist consumers in evaluating all of their coverage options and choosing a plan that best fulfills their health care needs.
 
“With these restrictions in place, assisters in Missouri are unable to advise or fully assist consumers with understanding their options for Medicaid eligibility, financial help or providers who may be covered under different Marketplace insurance plans,” said Dale Wrigley, Director of Engagement and Advocacy, Saint Louis Effort for AIDS. “Many of our clients are living with HIV/AIDS and have limited access to health care. We have a responsibility to provide our clients and all uninsured consumers with the most accurate, comprehensive information available and we are unable to perform these duties under the current law.”
 
These regulations authorize various consumer-assistance entities, including Navigators and Certified Application Counselors, to help consumers enroll in health insurance coverage. In 2013, more than a dozen states including Missouri enacted laws that impose additional licensing standards on consumer assisters and limit their permitted educational activities. In November 2013, St. Louis Effort for AIDS, Planned Parenthood and six other plaintiffs challenged the Missouri law in federal court.
 
The Missouri law's restrictions are also listed in other state laws in similar form. The plaintiffs and supporters of this action say that they hope the ruling will affect change in comparable state laws across the country and ensure that enrollment assisters are permitted to move forward with their commitment to help people understand options and select plans.
 
“This ruling sends a powerful message not only to Missouri lawmakers, but to policymakers in states with similar restrictions that make it difficult for uninsured residents to find information about the insurance options available under the ACA,” said Jane Perkins, NHeLP legal director. “Now that we are able to move forward following this ruling, we hope there are fewer obstacles for those who want to seek out in-person help regarding health care coverage options.”
 
Press Release contributed to this article. 
 
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