Connect the Dots: Attack the Navigators While Wall Street Runs up the Tax Preparers

Financial Justice Health Care

HRBNYC40_079Dallas   You know how it is.  Deep down, you know that there is going to absolutely be “cause and effect,” but sometimes it’s hard to connect the dots.  Well, it may have just gotten easier to understand the widespread state by state attacks on navigators assisting in the enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as we know it.

Ok, part of this is simple, admittedly, if Republican governors want the President’s program to fail to enroll significant numbers of the millions of people needing health insurance in order to leave them with a bag of coals under the tree in the form of penalties, then job one has to be to put as many obstacles in the way of the navigators who are tasked with outreach and beefing up the numbers.

In fact it’s so obvious that a federal judge ruled this year in Missouri that the obstacles put in the way of navigators and consumer assistors were out of bounds and illegal.  The federales are running the marketplace in Missouri, so he held that it is not just presumptuous, but unconstitutional for the state to interfere.  No one missed the point that that this might affect a good number of the more than 20 states that defaulted to the feds to run their programs, and in many of those states they are in a civil war against Obamacare.  Texas is the most outstanding example where Governor Rick Perry wanted rules so wild and crazy initially that even HHS had to tell him, “no, governor, you can’t have the individual consumer’s information, because that is protected.”  Nonetheless in the back and forth where one recent proposal might have cost $2000 per person and months of delays for navigators to be recertified by Texas, now it seems it will mainly take lots of time, 20 hours, a test, and months of waiting for a security check.  Those things don’t come out of Coca-Cola machines, you know.  In Arkansas, where the state and feds both manage the marketplace, the background checks by the state police average 6-8 weeks.   The administrators of Obamacare are in no position to go to the  mat with these state resisters nor can they coordinate without making permanent enemies in Congress that they can ill afford, forcing nonprofits in Missouri, and hopefully in Texas, to carry the water to challenge these blatantly illegal obstacles.

But, connecting the dots, it also becomes clear that Wall Street totally understands that Obamacare is so complex that navigators are needed.  The difference is that they don’t want this to be a neutral signup situation under the navigation rules.  Who makes money on that?  They want their buddies with the big tax preparation firms to make the money, and I’m talking about H&R Block, Liberty, and Jackson-Hewitt.   Heck, the IRS has to mop up the money on the ACA anyway, and that means putting consumers in the laps of the tax preparers on both the sales and cleanup.

Don’t take it from me though.  Take it from the Wall Street Journal:

But the bungled rollout and the law’s complex individual tax implications could benefit H&R Block whether or not enrollment meets the administration’s target. If nothing else, the law may expand America’s top tax preparer’s customer base, and help the company earn more from its existing ones.

H&R Block already has a pilot program to help people buy insurance. Starting next tax season, penalties for lacking coverage kick in. Even for those with coverage, H&R Block plans to offer guidance and use the refunds it typically applies to high-fee debit cards as a payment option. More people must now file returns and its role as middleman for insurers and insured could be lucrative.

One challenge is that health-care enrollment generally occurs in the fall while the tax season is in the spring. H&R Block employs just a fraction of its peak staff then. But it is confident that tools such as its “Helpth” website can process customers efficiently and steer new ones to its bread-and-butter tax prep.  Wall Street seems to agree. Since enrollment began, forecasts for H&R Block’s 2015 earnings per share are up 10.6%

Like I say, connect the dots!