Federal Funding Will Help ACA ‘Navigators’ Reach More Uninsured

Source: NJ Spotlight
The Affordable Care Act continues to generate controversy nationwide, but
New Jersey has made real progress under the ACA, with more than 700,000 additional patients added to Medicaid or low-cost private plans since the federal law took effect in 2014. Nationwide, the number of uninsured fell to a low of 11 percent this spring, according to a Gallup poll.
However, an estimated 1 million Garden State residents still lack coverage and, even with government subsidies to keep costs low, many products remain unaffordable to consumers, experts agreed. To help chip away at that number, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will give roughly $2 million to a handful of non-profit organizations to help New Jersey residents still lacking health insurance to get signed up for coverage they can afford.
The money – part of a $67 million package CMS announced Tuesday – will pay to train and deploy enrollment counselors who work with those without health insurance to help them navigate the system and secure an appropriate plan.
Ray Castro, a healthcare analyst who has tracked the ACA’s progress for New Jersey Policy Perspective, said these outreach workers are doing what they can, but additional resources are needed to enroll the bulk of the remaining uninsured residents — “The funding is the same each year, but the challenge is greater each year.”
Although the pool of uninsured residents is shrinking, those who remain without coverage are the most difficult to get signed up, Castro explained, whether because of language, or cultural barriers, or lifestyle.
Outreach workers are now focusing on homeless individuals and chronic drug users, who have been tough to track down and enroll in the past, as well as the “young invincibles” – the currently healthy, active, single young people who never envision the need for health insurance.

The annual enrollment period begins November 1 for plans that take effect in January.

When the ACA was enacted in 2014, Gov. Chris Christie opted to embrace a federal provision that allowed states to expand access to their Medicaid program, which has added nearly half a million patients to the New Jersey rolls in the years since. The governor has heralded the success of these efforts and reiterated his commitment to the program, stating not only are more people getting healthcare, but the process is costing taxpayers less, thanks to federal assistance and state reforms.
But Castro says that despite the discounts, costs – either premiums or co-pays – often discourage lower-income residents from signing up. “We need to do a better job of expanding outreach,” he said, “but ultimately we are not going to reach everyone until we reduce the costs sharing in the program.”

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