Opinion

Protect Enrollment Help for Young People

The Affordable Care Act made quality, affordable health coverage a reality for millions of Americans who previously had no realistic coverage option; however, this historic opportunity also meant that millions would need help understanding their options and finding the best plan for their needs and budget.

While everyone’s health care and coverage needs are different, the one constant is that health insurance is incredibly complicated. At some point, nearly everyone has been confused by the litany of jargon, acronyms and loopholes that fill any health insurance policy.

And for that reason alone, in-person assisters are an invaluable resource.

On July 10, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a 72 percent cut to the ACA’s “navigator” program, slashing it to a total of just $10 million for all 34 federally facilitated marketplace states. The year before, they had cut $27 million from the program, which means the Trump administration has cut 84 percent of the program’s funding in just two years.

The navigator program educates the public about new health insurance options and guides people through the enrollment process. They’re often run by nonprofits with deep ties to their communities and serve the most vulnerable.

Enrollment services have proven to be invaluable to helping millions select the plan that best fits their needs. In fact, a consumer is about twice as likely to successfully enroll in a plan with the help of an in-person assister than someone who tried to enroll alone. The navigator often becomes a trusted resource to the enrollee — answering questions, helping with troubleshooting, and making sure the enrollee can use the plan.

Now, the Trump administration is attacking the navigator programs on all sides. Citing flawed, nonsensical data, it is gutting this crucial and already insufficiently funded program and claiming the navigator programs aren’t effective.

Yet the administration’s measure of “effectiveness” entirely misses the point of these programs. Navigators focus on those who need the most assistance, which means they need more time with each individual to discuss enrollment options, give referrals and educate the enrollee. To compare their enrollment numbers to those of insurance brokers and agents is flawed at best and potentially misleading at worst.

The Trump administration is also encouraging navigators to push consumers toward so-called “alternative” options like association health plans, short-term limited duration insurance and health reimbursement arrangements. These are junk plans that don’t cover the same services as ACA plans.

We work with young people every day who say they want quality health coverage that covers the things most important to them — mental health care and maternity coverage, for example — and the plans the Trump administration are pushing don’t.

At Young Invincibles, we have worked tirelessly since the ACA was signed into law to help young adults understand their health care options and enroll in coverage that’s right for them. Navigators have been an indispensable partner in this work.

Some young people need a helping hand to navigate the enrollment process. Many don’t know that ACA plans must be comprehensive and cover the essential services that people use most, like maternity care, prescription drugs and free preventive care. And they may not realize that a few short years ago, they could be denied coverage just for having a pre-existing condition like asthma, diabetes or cancer.

But the navigators know, and they ensure everyone gets the help needed to stay healthy. By continually attacking navigator programs, the Trump administration is telling the nation’s young people that they’re on their own when making one of the first major decisions of their adult life.

Rather than stacking the deck against young people and pushing them to bare bones plans that don’t cover what they need, we should be helping them find the best plan to stay healthy so they can start their lives. Young people deserve better from this administration.

 

Rachel Fleischer is the executive director of Young Invincibles, a research and advocacy organization working to expand economic opportunity for young adults.

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