The Biden-Harris administration is investing a historic $98.9 million to 59 navigator organizations to help consumers during the 2023 open enrollment period. The money will have a major impact on enrollment in the Marketplace, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), one recipient said.
Navigators educate consumers on health insurance coverage, help them find the correct plan for their needs and assist them even after the enrollment process. The funding to 59 returning navigator organizations will help retain staff and add to the 1,500 employees who worked during the 2022 open enrollment period, according to a news release last week from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Biden’s investment is the largest to navigator organizations to date, according to the CMS, and stands in stark contrast to the Trump years, where the goal was to chip away at the Affordable Care Act. In 2018, the Trump administration announced just $10 million in grants to 39 navigator organizations for 2019.
The $99 million investment is in fact the second installment over a three-year period. For the 2022 open enrollment period, the administration awarded $80 million, which quadrupled the number of navigators for that year. These 1,500 employees held more than 1,800 outreach and education events at locations like libraries, vaccination clinics and food drives.
The Biden administration touted that navigator outreach led to 14.5 million people signing up for healthcare coverage through the Marketplaces in 2022, including about 6 million who newly gained coverage last year, CMS said. HHS recently announced that the national uninsured rate reached a record low of 8% in early 2022.
“This is a historic investment to connect people to high-quality, affordable health care,” said Xavier Becerra, Health and Human Services secretary, in a statement. “Last year, our investments helped result in the lowest uninsured rate in our nation’s history. This year, we’re doubling down on our efforts to ensure people get the insurance they need. Navigators critically help us reach people where they are, educating them on their health insurance options that can be lifesaving.”
The money this year is going to navigator organizations in 30 states. The largest recipient was the University of South Florida/Florida Covering Kids & Families (FL-CKF), which received more than $12.9 million. The organization works across the entire state and targets those who are vulnerable and disproportionately uninsured, including people who are LBGTQ+, pregnant women and Hispanic/Latino communities. Florida, which has not expanded Medicaid, had the fifth highest uninsured rate (12.3%) among all 50 states in 2020, according to the latest possible data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
For the open enrollment period, FL-CKF is working with nine organizations that reflect every region of the state, said Jodi Ray, program director. Each of the organizations has a project specific to their region’s needs. With the funding, FL-CKF is also focusing on staffing and putting out public service announcements through local media outlets.
“The support goes primarily to the human resource community … because that one-on-one assistance is everything,” Ray said. “The ability to ask questions of a knowledgeable person and be able to go back to that same person who knows your circumstances is really impactful for consumers.”
Ray added that the money will be very beneficial in getting consumers enrolled, especially as the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency nears. A projected 15 million people will lose health insurance coverage when this happens because the continuous enrollment requirement, which prohibits states from disenrolling Medicaid participants during the emergency period, will also end, HHS said in a recent report.
“Unfortunately for a state like Florida, that’s going to impact a whole lot of people who are currently enrolled in programs like Medicaid, who are going to probably find themselves no longer eligible for Medicaid and are really going to need help,” Ray said.
Those who are interested in speaking with an FL-CKF navigator can book an appointment through its website or call 877-813-9115.
Photo: Nataliia Nesterenko, Getty Images