Source: NJ Spotlight.com
In addition to the Navigators, the federal government funded $5.18 million for the state’s 20 federally qualified health centers to assist with enrollment. Other organizations, such as hospitals, have offices where residents can receive help from certified applications counselors, although some of these organizations didn’t receive federal funding.
Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate for New Jersey Citizen Action…said her largest concern is that residents won’t be aware of the help that’s available before it’s too late for this year. Residents must have insurance by March 31 to avoid paying a penalty when they file their 2014 income tax return by April 2015. Open enrollment for the marketplace will open again on November 15.
Through December 28, nearly 35,000 state residents enrolled in a health plan through the marketplace, while more than 70,000 have learned through the marketplace that they’re eligible for New Jersey FamilyCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
On Track or Falling Short?
While that may put the state on track to reach a federal target of 96,000 marketplace enrollees by March 31, it would still leave many New Jerseyans without insurance. The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that 628,000 state residents are eligible to purchase insurance through the marketplace, with 400,000 of those qualifying for federal subsidies to help defray costs.
“At this point, I feel like the capacity is there” in terms of organizations assisting residents, Collinsgru said. “What’s lacking is awareness.”
Collinsgru noted that the state could use $7.67 million increase public awareness. State and federal officials have been in talks for nearly a year over the funding. If the two sides don’t agree on how the money will be spent, it will revert to the federal government.
Uninsured residents “don’t have the information about what’s available and there’s no effort on the part of the state to make that happen on any sort of broad scale and that’s a problem,” Collinsgru said, adding: “Largely what we’re hearing from the assisters is they are not full all day, every day.”
Collinsgru said the remaining task is a matter of “connecting the dots — connecting the resources and the people it. What you need in New Jersey is clearly a grassroots campaign to make that happen.”
She expressed frustration that the state hasn’t matched its effort to work with federal officials to enroll residents newly eligible for Medicaid with a similar push to coordinate enrollment in the marketplace. This reflects Christie’s decisions early last year to agree to the Medicaid expansion but to leave marketplace enrollment to the federal government.
A spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the Navigator program is similar to the Medicare counselor program, adding that the Navigator grant recipients are “one more resource for Americans to learn about their options.”
CMS officials noted that despite the absence of Navigator organizations in some counties, there is at least one organization offering in-person assistance with marketplace enrollment in every county in the state, and that residents wouldn’t have to travel farther than to a neighboring county to meet with a Navigator grant recipient. Residents can find assistance at the federal marketplace website.
CMS officials noted that Navigator applicants were assessed by objective review panels and received a score based on their ability to meet federal criteria, including the organization’s expertise and track record working with underserved populations. The Navigator organizations must file quarterly and annual financial reports with the CMS, which will be monitoring their work to ensure that they’re meeting requirements.