Trump Administration Navigator Funding Cuts Leave West Virginians To Find Their Own Way to Affordable Health Insurance

Last week, the Trump administration announced a drastic cut, nearly 90 percent from 2016 funding levels, to Affordable Care Act navigator funding. These grants have provided several years of critical, unbiased, in-person assistance through ‘navigators’ to help individuals and families enroll in health insurance.

WV Navigator is a grant funded program that provides free health coverage enrollment assistance to uninsured West Virginians. Trained and certified navigators help consumers enroll in qualified health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace or, if eligible, WV Medicaid. Navigators help consumers determine eligibility for health coverage and financial assistance for health coverage. In West Virginia, West Virginia University Research Corporation and First Choice Health Systems received grants of $300,000 each in 2017.

This year the West Virginia total federal navigator program budget will be cut from $600,000 to $100,000 – a 83 percent cut in funding. This funding decision is but the latest in a series of blows to the enrollment community in the past two years. Looking across the country, the inadequate $10 million navigator grant is an 84 percent cut in services since 2016 and a 42 percent cut over last year’s already meager spending levels. 

Cuts of this magnitude stretch the navigator program to the breaking point. It makes it significantly harder for West Virginians to learn about  the availability and affordability of plans, leaving consumers too often with few, if any, resources for understanding their health insurance options.  Consumers in our state will be lost in the forest of health insurance choices without an experienced guide.

Please Call our Congressional Delegation to reverse these cuts by restoring and increasing investments in enrollment and health literacy assistance now and for years to come.

 

The continued attacks on health care - including the recent efforts to change federal rules to allow for the expansion of junk insurance plans -  will likely lead to additional consumer confusion.  West Virginians will not understand that they may be enrolling in health plans that won’t be there in their time of need. I call these plans that don’t provide protections for people with pre-existing conditions  “swiss cheese plans” – full of holes that leave consumers with surprise high medical bills. The enhanced confusion and chaos require more consumer assistance this Fall, not less.

Especially important to our state, navigators – unlike insurance brokers – help people complete an application when they learn that they are not eligible for premium assistance but are eligible for Medicaid.

The July 10 federal funding cuts announcement suggests that consumers already have the knowledge of what is available and how to enroll. Unfortunately, this assertion is not backed up by evidence.  Kaiser tracking polls continue to find that most people have limited awareness about open enrollment and eligibility rules, and lack confidence to apply on their own. The average navigator appointment with a consumer took one-to-two hours.  Consumers needed help understanding plan choices (77 percent) and had limited understanding of the Affordable Care Act (77 percent) and Medicaid (42 percent).  Navigators play a particularly important role in rural areas of our state where consumers may lack access to the internet, to other enrollment resources, and finding assistance is challenging.

Our leaders in Washington and Charleston should be deeply concerned that the cuts will not only lead to the loss of jobs in their districts, but also impede constituents’ ability to enroll in health coverage. We need policymakers to provide the support consumers across the country need to make the best decision on behalf of their families to gain, use and maintain health coverage.

Please Call our Congressional Delegation to reverse these cuts by restoring and increasing investments in enrollment and health literacy assistance now and for years to come.

West Virginians Together for Medicaid