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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Volunteers Can Help Build the Capacity of Navigator and Assister Programs

Rachel Dolan

Enrollment Policy Analyst

The next open enrollment period begins on November 15, and navigator and assister programs are already gearing up to help consumers apply for new coverage or renew existing coverage.  During the first open enrollment period, which ran for six months, navigators and assisters were inundated with requests for help from consumers. Demand was so great that staffers were often overwhelmed, and all available appointments were booked. Several state assistance programs found that using volunteers allowed their programs to reach and help more consumers. 

For the next open enrollment period, which runs for just three months, programs may want to consider using volunteers to maximize their capacity within the constraints of limited budgets. Volunteers who are trained as navigators or certified application counselors (CACs) can expand a group’s capacity to do enrollment assistance. And volunteers who are not trained can work at enrollment events and help set up appointments. 

Our brief, Using Volunteers in Navigator and Assister Programs: Doing More with Less, focuses on programs that are already using volunteers, explaining the options these programs have with examples of successful state volunteer programs from the first open enrollment period. This post focuses on the reasons why navigator and assister programs may decide that using volunteers during the second enrollment period makes sense for them.

Why Volunteers May Be a Good Option for the Next Open Enrollment Period

There are more consumers to serve in a shorter timeframe

The second open enrollment period will run from November 15, 2014, through February 15, 2015. During this time, navigators and assisters must not only find and help millions of first-time marketplace customers—they must also help many of the 8 million newly insured consumers who need to renew their coverage. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about 13 million people will have coverage through the marketplaces after this second open enrollment.  

Serving more people in less time means that assister programs that already have limited resources will be stretched even further. Volunteers can provide additional manpower to help these programs reach out to populations that are still uninsured.

Consumers may be confused about renewing coverage

The millions of consumers who enrolled in coverage during the first open enrollment will be going through the renewal process for the first time. They may be confused about the renewal notices they get, or they may need more in-depth help with finding a plan that better meets their needs. 

Volunteers can work with consumers who have simpler renewal needs, freeing up experienced navigators and other assisters to help consumers with more complex renewals.

Additional training is available for volunteers to provide more in-depth help

Previously, training for enrollment assisters was siloed based on the type of assisters they were: navigators or certified application counselors (CACs). Many assisters were unable to complete additional, optional training even if they wanted to. We heard from a number of CACs who wanted to take the navigator training so they could help as many clients as possible but were not allowed to do so.

This year, CACs will have access to the navigator training. And while this training won’t be required for CAC certification, it will help programs that want to ensure that their CACs are as knowledgeable as possible or for CACs who want more in-depth information. Volunteers who take this additional training will be able to help consumers with more complex enrollment issues.

Collecting consumer stories

Another way that volunteers can help assistance programs is by collecting stories from consumers about how having insurance helped or will help them. These stories are valuable tools to publicize your organization’s work and reach out to new potential enrollees. 

Families USA has a story collection tool online at www.mycoveragestory.org that anyone can use to submit an enrollment success story. We are also eager to partner with organizations that are working on outreach or enrollment assistance to make story collection and story banking easier. 

For additional resources that can help enrollment assisters, check out our Enrollment Assister Resource Center

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