The Trump administration took another punch at the Affordable Care Act by slashing funding for the navigator program that provides in-person assistance to help people enroll in health insurance coverage.
The administration cut funds for grants to the navigator program by more than $25 million --- from $36.8 million in 2018 to $10 million for 2019. This marks the second year of funding cuts for navigators.
Last year saw a 42 percent decrease in funding for navigators - $36.8 million in funding for 2018 as opposed to $6.2.5 million for 2017 that had been budgeted under the Obama administration the previous year.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will expand the use of private sector agents and brokers to help consumers enroll in coverage.
The next open enrollment season under the ACA begins Nov. 1.
In announcing the funding cut, the administration argued that because the health care law has been around longer, there is less of a need for navigators to help people enroll in coverage.
“As the exchange has grown in visibility and become more familiar to Americans seeking health insurance, the need for federally funded navigators has diminished,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement.
CMS also said that navigators enrolled only about 1 percent of those who signed up for coverage for 2018 in the 34 states that use the federal health insurance exchange.
Meanwhile, private sector agents and brokers played a greater role in helping people obtain coverage for the current year, CMS said. They assisted 42 percent of those who obtained coverage on the federal exchange, the agency reported.
Agents and brokers also were more cost-effective than navigators when helping enroll consumers in coverage, CMS reported. Private sector agents and brokers cost the federal exchange only $2.40 per enrollee to provide training and technical assistance.
CMS announced it will continue to expand the use of agents and brokers, including allowing individuals to enroll online and in-person with agents and brokers as well as enrolling directly with health insurers.
“It’s time for the navigator program to evolve, which is why we are announcing a new direction for the program," CMS administrator Seema Verna said in a news release. "This decision reflects CMS’ commitment to put federal dollars for the federally-facilitated exchanges to their most cost effective use in order to better support consumers through the enrollment process.”