Starting October 1, 2013, consumers in all states were able to access affordable health insurance options through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Some states set up a State-based Marketplace, while other states will work with the federal government in a State Partnership Marketplace and the remaining states opted for the Federally-facilitated Marketplace.
No matter what state they live in, consumers can receive help as they apply for and choose new insurance through the Marketplace.
Open Enrollment for the 2018 plan year begins November 1, 2017 and individuals will again be able to provide assistance to consumers in a number of different ways: by becoming Navigators or certified application counselors. In addition, agents and brokers will still be able to help consumers enroll in health insurance through the Marketplace.
Navigators play a vital role in helping consumers prepare electronic and paper applications to establish eligibility and enroll in coverage through the Marketplaces and potentially qualify for an insurance affordability programs. They also provide outreach and education to raise awareness about the Marketplace, and refer consumers to health insurance ombudsman and consumer assistance programs when necessary. Navigators are funded through federal grant funds and must complete comprehensive federal Navigator training, criminal background checks, and state training and registration (when applicable), prior to assisting consumers.
On September 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), awarded $36 million in Navigator grant awards to returning organizations to continue serving as Navigators in the 34 states with a Federally-facilitated Exchange. These awards will support local in-person assistance to help consumers navigate, shop, and enroll in health insurance coverage.
This year, 86 returning organizations accepted a grant award for the final year of a three-year funding cycle for grantees that currently provide local in-person assistance. The 2015 Navigator Funding Opportunity Announcement required applicants to submit a proposal covering the full 36-month project period. Funding is released in 12-month increments as CMS continually assesses Navigator grantees’ performance for ongoing support. A list of 2017 Navigator grant recipients can be found here: 2017 Navigator Grant Recipients. The current grant cycle runs through September 12, 2018. Entities and individuals cannot serve as federal Navigators without receiving federal grant funding from CMS to perform Navigator duties.
The Federally-facilitated Marketplace designates organizations to certify application counselors who perform many of the same functions as Navigators and non-Navigator assistance personnel—including educating consumers and helping them complete an application for coverage. An online application for organizations who want to become Marketplace-designated organizations that can certify application counselors can be found at the link below. These groups might include community health centers or other health care providers, hospitals, or social service agencies.
The Enrollment Assistance Program contracts established temporary storefronts and labor forces in CMS identified population centers to help enroll consumers during the beginning years of the Health Insurance Exchanges. The contracts were intended to supplement the year round in-person enrollment support services of Navigators, Certified Application Counselors, and local insurance agents and brokers. CMS awarded base plus four option year contracts to Cognosante and CSRA on August 29, 2013. Both contracts are currently in their third option year. CSRA’s current option year contract is for $12,780,966 and Cognosante’s is $9,632,563. The current contract option year expires on August 29, 2017, for Cognosante’s contract and September 30, 2017 for CSRA’s contract.
The Enrollment Assistance Program engaged with more than 19,300 consumers and assisted 14,500 enrollments during the 2017 Open Enrollment period. In addition, they helped with approximately 11,000 account creations and 2,500 Medicaid referrals.
Agents and brokers also play a key role in the Health Insurance Marketplace. To the extent permitted by states, agents and brokers play an important role in educating consumers about Marketplaces and insurance affordability programs, and helping consumers receive eligibility determinations, apply for premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, compare plans, and enroll in coverage. In particular, agents and brokers play a critical role in helping qualified employers and employees enroll in coverage through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). Consumers may want to obtain professional advice from agents and brokers when applying for and selecting a qualified health plan. Below is a link to the CMS webpage for agents and brokers choosing to participate in Federally-facilitated Marketplaces or State Partnership Marketplaces.