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Friday, March 21, 2014

President’s Budget Marks First Step to Funding Enrollment Workers

Ben D'Avanzo

Special Projects Manager

Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded $67 million in grants to 105 organizations to hire navigators and help consumers enroll in health insurance marketplace plans. 

These navigators and assisters have played an invaluable role to millions of people who have signed up so far. Now, the federal government must prepare for the next round of funding.

President Obama recently released his budget for health spending in Fiscal Year 2015, which starts October 1. The proposal reveals that the Administration will likely spend around $700 million on consumer outreach to promote the Affordable Care Act and education activities. This includes funding for the federal call center, advertising, website development, and in-person assistance work like navigators and consumer assistance programs. The Administration will work through the spring to determine how much money to spend on each of these programs.

While we recognize the delicate balance of allotting funding to all of those important consumer outreach, education, and enrollment activities, it is vitally important that the Administration chooses to prioritize funding for in-person assistance work. 

As this Enroll America issue brief explores, consumers are more likely to find their way to the health insurance marketplace and enroll when they have the assistance of local stakeholders (i.e. trained specialists like navigators and assisters) whose mission is to help you sign up for health coverage. Enrollment workers field the complicated questions that arise during the application process, and this is critical to ensuring as many people as possible are able to sign up for affordable health insurance (many for the first time).

Last year’s grants allowed only so many navigators to be hired. In some states, only two organizations (the minimum required by law) received grants, and navigators in all states have struggled to meet the consumer demand for assistance. Even so, we have seen throughout the open enrollment period that the successes come from the work done on the ground level to direct encourage and helping consumer get covered. 

We anticipate that the funding announcement for new navigator grants is coming in the next few months. We’ll be watching for whether the Administration provides sufficient funding to meet the similarly great need in next year’s enrollment period.