Health

ACA navigators expected to quadruple in 2022 after $80M increase in funding

The number of navigator organizations that assist consumers with finding Affordable Care Act coverage is expected to quadruple to 1,500 navigators in the 2022 coverage year, the Biden administration reported.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday it will provide $80 million in grant awards to 60 navigator organizations, which will be able to hire more than 1,500 navigators to aid consumers. The announcement comes as the Biden administration has made moves to bolster the ACA, including holding a special open enrollment period for those affected by the pandemic through Aug. 15.

“Our local partners are crucial in helping people get covered,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday. “By expanding our pool of Navigators, we will reach more underserved communities, and grow our network of trusted experts who can help people across the country navigate their health care options.”

The $80 million in awards to navigators are for a 36-month performance period and the organizations get funding every 12 months. This is a change from the previous method that paid navigators every year and is designed to provide more stability for the organizations.

“This multi-year funding structure is designed to provide greater consistency for Navigator awardee organizations, reducing yearly start-up time and allowing more efficient use of grant funds,” HHS said in a release on the funding.

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Navigators were also asked to detail how they will reach out to underserved or vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on how to identify and enroll racial and ethnic minorities, people in rural communities and other underserved groups.

The commitment is part of a larger effort by the Biden administration to close disparities in healthcare.

“With this additional grant funding, even more Navigators will be able to provide comprehensive assistance through customized educational and outreach activities, especially to underserved communities,” said Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, in a statement.

The commitment to the navigator program is a major turnaround compared to the Trump administration, which cut funding for the program to $10 million. Trump administration officials had complained that navigators did not contribute to enough ACA signups, but navigators have countered that they help consumers not just with ACA coverage but also if they are eligible for Medicaid and other government programs.

The 60 navigator organizations that got funding is an increase from the 30 grantees that got funding in 2020.

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