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Friday, July 18, 2014

New Surveys Confirm that Navigators and Assisters Are Essential to Health Insurance Enrollment

Rachel Dolan

Enrollment Policy Analyst

Update: On August 3, The New York Times highlighted the steep learning curve facing consumers who have not had health insurance for years, if ever. Helping consumers grasp the basics of health insurance is one of the many services performed by navigators and assisters as they enroll people in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

Two recent surveys (one released this week) are providing a first concrete look at how navigators and assisters helped millions of consumers enroll in affordable health coverage.

According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Tuesday, a corps of almost 30,000 navigators, assisters, and volunteers helped more than 10 million consumers enroll in the health insurance marketplace between October 2013 and April 2014.

The new Kaiser survey also sheds light on the time-intensive nature of consumers’ questions—fully 64 percent of assister programs spent an average of 1 to 2 hours helping each consumer, with a large majority (90 percent) of consumers continuing to contact assisters with post-enrollment questions.

The Kaiser survey also highlights how uneven funding and support was across states—federally-facilitated marketplace (FFM) states had only about half the number of assisters per 10,000 uninsured individuals as states with state-based marketplaces.

Further, in a brief the Urban Institute released earlier this June (based on data from its quarterly Health Reform Monitoring Survey in March 2014), the findings show that more than 77 percent of consumers found navigators and assisters “somewhat or very helpful.”

Given the essential role that navigators and assisters will continue to play in ensuring that consumers can successfully enroll in affordable health insurance through the marketplaces, future funding for these groups will become increasingly important. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has already released the grant opportunity for the upcoming open enrollment period, with plans to announce the grant awards in September. Future funding, however, is uncertain. These recent surveys underscore the critical role of consumer assistance programs and—as important—the need to fund them adequately to meet the great demand.

For more information on navigators and assisters, visit our resources page.