Government grant will help consumers with health plan selection, enrollment

Additional funds will enable navigator organizations to expand their services

Americans can expect more help understanding, choosing and enrolling in health plans during the upcoming open enrollment period, thanks to a nearly $100 million government grant to navigator organizations.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced it was providing $98.9 million to 59 navigator organizations for the 2023 open enrollment period. The funds, which will be distributed through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, are intended to help the organizations add staff as well as retain current employees.

The 2023 open enrollment period begins November 1, 2022 and runs through January 15, 2023.

Health care navigators help consumers understand their coverage options under the federal and state health care marketplaces along with Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and to enroll in the plan they choose. Currently there are about 1,500 certified navigators, according to the HHS announcement.

“This is a historic investment to connect people to high-quality, affordable health care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the announcement. “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.”

“Reaching people where they are is a key part of our strategy to connect people to health coverage,” added CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “Navigators were incredibly effective during the last open enrollment period when a historic number of people signed up and now we are doubling down on investing in community navigators who can help people find the coverage they need.”

Last year the Biden administration awarded $80 million to the navigator program, enabling organizations to quadruple the number of navigators for 2022’s open enrollment period. Navigators held more than 1,800 outreach and education events, helping contribute to the 14.5 million people who signed up for 2022 health care coverage through the marketplaces, including nearly 6 million people who gained coverage for the first time, according to the announcement.

This year’s grants include $12.5 million to support additional direct outreach, education, and enrollment activities aimed at helping eligible individuals move from Medicaid/CHIP to marketplace coverage. Additional funds may be used to hire staff to expand in-person services to more locations, targeting outreach efforts in areas of high need, and increasing enrollment assistance capacity through virtual and telephone appointments.

In addition, the announcement says, navigator organizations will focus on outreach to people who identify as racial and ethnic minorities, people in rural communities, the LGBTQ+ community, American Indians and Alaska Natives, refugee and immigrant communities, low-income families, pregnant women and new mothers, people with transportation or language barriers or lacking internet access, veterans, and small business owners.

Navigators are required to complete comprehensive federal training, criminal background checks, and state training and registration (when applicable) before they help consumers.