Press Release

Spanberger, Castor Lead Push Urging HHS to Support Health Insurance Navigators, Help Americans Get Independent Assistance in Healthcare Marketplace Enrollment Amid COVID-19

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Washington, June 12, 2020 | comments

This news release was issued by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA07).

WASHINGTON, D.C. –
U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Kathy Castor (D-FL-14) today are leading an effort calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide additional assistance to American families as they look for new health insurance coverage options during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since February 2020, 15.2 million Americans have lost their jobs and access to employer-sponsored health insurance. Unfortunately, 13 percent of American workers are still unemployed and looking for work. Newly unemployed individuals face a confusing array of health insurance options to continue their coverage. As a result, the demand for assistance has skyrocketed, with health insurance Navigators across the country reporting unprecedented call volume and requests as individuals and families try to navigate the current health insurance landscape — especially those with pre-existing conditions.

In a letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma, Spanberger, Castor, and 33 of their colleagues called on HHS to increase funding for Navigators in states that rely on federally facilitated marketplaces — like Virginia and Florida. Navigators are unique, because their funding comes from user fees insurers pay to participate in the federal Marketplace, rather than general taxpayer revenue. Unfortunately, HHS support for Navigators has decreased by 84 percent since 2016, even as the user fees paid by insurers remain substantially similar. In their letter, the Members also urged HHS to recognize the need for additional funding for Navigators as millions of Americans seek fair, accurate, and impartial coverage information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the extent of the ongoing public health and economic crisis, we urge your department to increase funding for Navigator programs from the insurers’ user fees and release the awards as soon as possible,” said Spanberger, Castor, and their colleagues. “Increased and immediate access to funding will allow Navigators to effectively assist the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and their insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We also encourage your department to increase the Navigators’ funding for 2021 open enrollment, which is set to be renewed in September.”

The Spanberger-Castor letter was also signed by U.S. Representatives Terri A. Sewell (D-AL-07), Ted Deutch (D-FL-22), Madeleine Dean (D-PA-04), TJ Cox (D-CA-21), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44), Chris Pappas (D-NH-01), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL-01), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Donna E. Shalala (D-FL-27), Gwen Moore (D-WI-04), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-23), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL-07), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07), David E. Price (D-NC-04), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA-04), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-IL-04), Mike Doyle (D-PA-18), Grace Meng (D-NY-06), Darren Soto (D-FL-09), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Katie Porter (D-CA-45), Lois Frankel (D-FL-21), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-20), Filemon Vela (D-TX-34), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-02), David Scott (D-GA-13), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-09), Sharice L. Davids (D-KS-03), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), and Danny K. Davis (D-IL-07).

"Navigators are critically important in outreach and enrollment, especially for those who face additional barriers to getting covered, or those who are brand new to buying their own health insurance, as many young people are. Unfortunately, the Navigator program has been severely underfunded for the last three years, leading to cuts that have left huge parts of the country without any help or guidance,” said Erin Hemlin, Health Policy and Advocacy Director, Young Invincibles. “We commend Rep. Spanberger and Rep. Castor for their efforts to restore funding for this vital program, and urge Secretary Azar to take action."

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

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Dear Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma,

We write to urge you to provide immediate emergency funding to support Navigator programs in states that rely on federally facilitated exchanges. Navigators are reporting unprecedented demand for their assistance as newly unemployed individuals seek to maintain their health coverage during a time of great economic and health uncertainty.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May the unemployment rate was 13.3%, meaning 21 million Americans were unemployed. Since February, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons are up by 9.8 percentage points and 15.2 million, respectively.  As millions of Americans lose their jobs, many also lose their employer-sponsored health insurance. It is estimated that nearly 20 million people may become newly eligible for either Medicaid or marketplace coverage.  This is an unprecedented demand for coverage outside of open enrollment, nearly double the current marketplace enrollee population. The extreme uptick in unemployment uninsured rates means many Americans are now desperately looking for alternative coverage, and they need help navigating their options.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the Navigator program to provide impartial, expert enrollment assistance to community members who need help most: uninsured and underinsured individuals, low-income families, the self-employed, and those with additional barriers to coverage. Navigators have the experience and expertise to meet the challenge of maintaining access to health insurance during this time of economic uncertainty. Indeed, Navigators report the pandemic and associated job losses have caused record demand for their services. Many have adapted to social distancing by holding virtual appointments and are working around the clock to help their clients access care.

Navigators are funded by the user fees insurers pay to participate in the federally facilitated marketplace – not taxpayer dollars. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can decide the timing and amounts of those awards. Unfortunately, HHS has cut funding for Navigators in states that rely on a federally facilitated exchange by 84% since 2016,   from $63 million to just $10 million 2019. We heard that Navigators have been told not to expect more in 2020 than what they received in 2019. Despite these cuts to the Navigator program and to other outreach and enrollment activities, the user fees insurers pay to participate in the exchanges have not changed significantly.

Given the extent of the ongoing public health and economic crisis, we urge your department to increase funding for Navigator programs from the insurers’ user fees and release the awards as soon as possible. Increased and immediate access to funding will allow Navigators to effectively assist the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and their insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We also encourage your department to increase the Navigators’ funding for 2021 open enrollment, which is set to be renewed in September.

Providing the necessary assistance for all Americans who have lost coverage is imperative to fighting the public health crisis created by COVID-19. Navigators are ready and willing to meet this need, and we urge you to provide them immediate and increased support.

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