A second suit — this time in federal court — has been filed challenging Tennessee's emergency rules for health law navigators and counselors.
Two Nashville government employees and their labor organization, Service Employees International Local 205, are plaintiffs in the suit filed Friday afternoon. Exie Mai Harrington, a circulation assistant at the library, and Trumeko Foxx, a home health care provider, contend that the rules violate the First Amendment right to free speech and conflict with federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
They are asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance from enforcing those rules — an action that a Davidson County chancery judge declined to take in the first suit filed.
Tennessee's emergency rules state health law counselors and navigators may not "discuss the benefits, terms and features of a particular plan over any other health plans and offer advice about which health plan is better or worse or suitable for a particular individual or employer."
The rules set a penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.
In the federal suit, Jerry E. Martin, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, says Tennessee "mushroomed" the definition for navigators beyond the specification of the federal law, which authorized contract workers to perform community outreach to inform people about opportunities for health coverage.
The defendants in the federal suit include Gov. Bill Haslam, Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance Julie McPeak and Attorney General Robert Cooper.
Both Haslam and McPeak have defended the rules as a measure to protect consumers from fraud — an action that was authorized by bipartisan legislation passed in the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year.
Harrington contends that the rules prevent her from assisting library patrons and that she cannot afford to pay a $1,000 penalty.
Foxx, an employee of the Metro Nashville Department of Social Services, contends that she has helped the people she serves apply for programs such as TennCare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but the emergency rules would prevent her from helping them apply for insurance on the federally run exchange.
The first suit, which is still pending in Davidson County Chancery Court, also contends the emergency rules violate the First Amendment and federal laws. It was filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs. They included a disabled Tennessean who needs assistance applying for insurance coverage, a physician and church pastors.