Programs that help people sign up for Affordable Care Act plans in Florida will have their funding cut by 81 percent this year.
The cuts could have an impact on enrollment, says Jodi Ray, director of Florida Covering Kids and Families.
Last year, her group received nearly $5 million to help Floridians sign up for Obamacare.
She’s not sure how much it will get this year, but funding for the entire state was cut from $6.5 million last year to $1.2 million this year.
“There’s no way with the level of cuts that we can maintain the current program at the level it is,” said Ray.
Florida Covering Kids and Families, based out of the University of South Florida, has consistently received more funding than any other program in the country because it has had success reaching diverse communities that need enrollment help, Ray said.
The program has built a community-based network that meets with people face-to-face.
“It’s proven to be a very important element in identifying consumers that tend to be the hardest to reach and the ones who need the most assistance, who are less likely to be logging on and enrolling on their own,” Ray said.
During the height of enrollment last year, about 130 navigators in the program were fielding about 1,000 calls a day.
This year, Ray says she will have to lay off staff.
“We won't have the number of humans to respond to that level of demand which is unfortunate because that level of demand is there, clearly,” Ray said.
Navigators are important because they provide unbiased enrollment assistance, she said. Without navigators, consumers have to rely on insurance brokers, who often work on commission.
Navigators also work year-round to help with special enrollment periods and post-enrollment issues.
“The job doesn’t end during open enrollment and the need for the support services doesn’t end during open enrollment,” she said.
And it’s not just Obamacare that they assist with, Ray said. Navigators also enroll people in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP.