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Budget For Obamacare Navigators Cut By 70 Percent

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Trump administration this week cut the budget for programs that help people sign up for Obamacare plans by more than 70 percent.

The navigator programs, which connect people with health care plans that best meet their needs, will get $10 million this year to split among 34 states. That’s down from $36.8 million in 2017 and $63 million in 2016.

The cuts come after other moves to weaken the Affordable Care Act, including the elimination of the tax penalty for individuals who do not have health insurance and the discontinuation of some payments to insurers.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said these cuts will be especially harmful to Florida, which has 1.7 million residents on Affordable Care Act plans, the most in the nation.

“I think this piece, where they are pulling the rug out from under our very successful, independent, knowledgeable navigators across the state, I think that probably has the greatest impact of all and that is why I’m fearful,” Castor said.  

This year, navigators will also be asked to promote insurance plans that do not adhere to the Affordable Care Act’s required benefits and protections.

“Now our navigators are being asked to promote junk insurance plans,” Castor said. “That’s really unconscionable.”

Last year, Florida's largest navigator group, Florida Covering Kids and Families -- based at the University of South Florida -- received nearly $5 million in federal funds and employed more than 100 navigators across the state.

“We're not going to be able to keep those grassroots navigators on the ground working for us,” Castor said.

The funding also helps pay for outreach, materials, data collection and a website and phone number where people can get information.

In a release, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the navigators failed to enroll enough people to justify the money spent on the program.

Instead, private insurance agents and brokers assisted with 42 percent of enrollment in states that participate in the federal exchanges during 2018, the release said.

“It’s time for the Navigator program to evolve, which is why we are announcing a new direction for the program,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in the 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.”

Castor, however, said private brokers and agents are often working on commission and do not always have the best interests of consumers at heart.

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.