(Bloomberg) — A Missouri law requiring licenses for counselors who help consumers find health insurance on Affordable Care Act exchanges was temporarily blocked by a U.S. judge, setting back a measure by a state hostile to the federal health care overhaul statute.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith in Jefferson City, Missouri, said the state, which declined to establish its own exchange, was barred from interfering with a program set up under the federal ACA.

“Having made the choice to leave the operation of the exchange to the federal government, Missouri cannot choose to impose additional requirements or limitations on the exchange,” Smith wrote today in granting a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement of the law by the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration.

Missouri is among at least a dozen Republican-led states that imposed licensing exams for exchange-enrollment counselors, known as navigators, fines that can run to as much as $1,000 and training that almost doubles the hours required by the federal government.

Republicans say the measures are aimed at protecting consumers who hand over details about their household income and other private information if they get help from the navigators. ACA supporters called the measures attempts to undermine efforts to sign up the uninsured.

Constitutional question

The ruling was the first of its kind in a navigator case and calls into question the constitutionality of similar laws elsewhere, said Jay Angoff, an attorney with Washington-based Mehri & Skalet PLLC, which represented the Missouri groups.

“Missouri’s attempts to obstruct the Affordable Care Act with unnecessary and burdensome navigator requirements are simply preempted by federal law,” Jane Perkins, an attorney for nonprofit groups that sued the state, said in a statement. “On this the court is clear: federally funded navigators must be able to exercise the duties they are funded to do under federal law.”

The state is reviewing the decision, Nanci Gonder, a press secretary to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Obama administration awarded $67 million in grants last year to 105 hospitals, social-service agencies, local clinics and other groups meant to help steer people through the complexities of the new insurance system, with its deductibles, copays, provider networks and tax credits.

The case is St. Louis Effort for AIDS v. Huff, 13-cv-4246, U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri (Jefferson City).

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