State Cannot Fine Individuals for Helping Uninsured Sign Up for Healthcare Coverage
NASHVILLE–(ENEWSPF)–October 8, 2013. Today a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents state officials from applying Tennessee’s restrictive emergency rules regulating “navigator” activities to family members, caretakers, librarians and other public servants. The order comes on the heels of Friday’s filing of a lawsuit by a local librarian, a homecare worker and the Service Employees International Union Local 205, challenging the emergency rules, which put at risk people who seek to help uninsured Tennesseans sign up for healthcare coverage through the healthcare marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act.
“This is a victory for free speech and the rule of law,” said Exie Harrington, a Nashville public librarian who is one of the plaintiffs in Harrington vs. Haslam. “Now I can assist patrons and make sure they are able to find the resources they need to make their own healthcare decisions without fear of being fined.”
The federal court concluded that state officials cannot enforce a particularly overbroad section of the emergency rules which define a “navigator” as any person who facilitates enrollment of individuals or employers in health plans or public insurance programs offered through an exchange. In addition, the judge found that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits of their First Amendment challenge that the emergency rules violated their right to free speech and association. The rules included potential fines of $1,000, and the judge agreed that such a fine would have a “chilling” effect on the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and they were likely to suffer immediate and irreparable harm unless the language was limited to actual navigators, as defined by the Affordable Care Act.
Today’s ruling means that the plaintiffs and all other Tennesseans who seek to provide friends, neighbors or fellow citizens with information about the healthcare marketplaces can do so without fear that they will be subjected to harsh fines.
The temporary restraining order remains in place for 14 days and the plaintiffs will seek to extend the court’s order by requesting a preliminary injunction.
The Service Employees International Union is the single largest labor union in North America, with a membership of over 2 million members and is one of the fastest-growing unions in the United States. In Tennessee, SEIU Local 205 represents thousands of public service and healthcare workers across the state.