Amber Higgins, a navigator with Insure Georgia, provides information about enrolling for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act during a child safety expo in October in Macon. (Audra Melton/The New York Times)

Groups that help people sign up for Obamacare face deep cut

The Trump administration announced late Tuesday that it is cutting deeply into funding for “navigators” that help people enroll in Obamacare.

“Navigators failed to enroll a meaningful amount of people,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in its announcement, “and not nearly enough to justify the millions of federal dollars spent on the program.” Georgia’s entire statewide allotment this year is being reduced to $500,000, according to an official affiliated with the state’s main navigator organization.

That’s down from $3.5 million two years ago and $1.5 million after it was cut in the first year of the Trump administration. The administration also cut advertising for Obamacare open enrollment last year by 90 percent.

Navigators have countered that the Trump administration relies on enrollment numbers that count only the people whose enrollment is completed by a navigator on his or her computer. However, they say, a tremendous amount of their work is based on navigating people through the enrollment process so they can complete it themselves or later together with their spouses on their own computers. Much of this work is done by telephone assistance lines.

“Navigators” were established by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to ease enrollment in the new health insurance exchange markets. Navigators also may help people choose a different option they may qualify for, such as Medicare. Insure Georgia has up to now been the state’s main navigator organization.

Navigators were already on edge because the instructions to apply came so late they thought it could be difficult to devise a proposal and be thoroughly evaluated in time for open enrollment planning.

“We have been mandated by (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to go after the harder-to-reach population,” said Fred Ammons, the CEO of Community Health Works. “… In-person navigation in Georgia is essentially over.”

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