Associations Now

After Funding Cuts, Groups Step Up To Help With Obamacare Open Enrollment

Associations Now — October 31, 2017

By Ernie Smith

The Affordable Care Act's open enrollment period, starting Wednesday, comes with new budgetary challenges for "navigator" groups meant to help the public apply for healthcare. In response, some organizations have launched campaigns to encourage signups.

With new budgetary limitations threatening to limit or silence the marketing around the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) open enrollment period, it might be a little bit harder to get everyone signed up. And moves in Washington have a lot of people wondering whether they need to be signing up at all.

As Jim Willshier, the director of policy at the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers put it in comments to ABC News: "The confusion has been running the gamut running from 'do I need to have insurance?' to 'is the ACA gone?'"

The short answer is, yes, the ACA is still with us, and yes, you still need to have insurance. And if you previously got insurance through the ACA, you should probably look into signing up. So-called navigator programs designed to help with this process, like Willshier's, are still active, though they're working with much tighter budgets, due to a $116 million cut in programs by the Trump administration.

In comments to the Janesville Gazette [registration], the Covering Wisconsin Navigator Collaborative's Caroline Gomez-Tom, who saw her group's nearly $1 million in funding cut by almost half, notes that it has also found its marketing efforts going up against a torrent of negative news about the status of the ACA. The law is still active, though critics have suggested Trump's recent executive actions on the rule have amounted to "sabotage."

"What we are worried about is, with all the effort we've made to get the word out, that it's a little too late, and we won't know until we start encountering consumers in the first week of open enrollment," Gomez-Tom told the newspaper.

In response to the recent funding cuts, some associations and unions have launched campaigns focused on encouraging signups within their own communities and industries.

The Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), for example, announced this week that it would launch an enrollment campaign of its own to encourage its members, largely Uber and Lyft drivers, to sign up for healthcare services.

"We can't allow political posturing to leave this growing class of workers and their families vulnerable and without healthcare," IDG founder Jim Conigliaro Jr. said in an emailed news release. "Getting the word out is particularly challenging in the gig economy because workers are isolated and do not work out of a central office, so we will be reaching out every way we can to ensure every driver hears from us."

And in New Jersey, an array of associations and advocacy groups have formed the Cover NJ Coalition, which will focus on encouraging enrollment over the next month. The group, which counts the New Jersey Hospital Association, New Jersey Association of Health Plans, Planned Parenthood, the New Jersey Primary Care Association, and a variety of community and social-service groups as members, hopes to fill the knowledge gap amid the funding cuts.

"Consumers need to know they can still get financial assistance as in years past if they qualify and free enrollment assistance to help select the plan that is right for them," said Maura Collinsgru, healthcare program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, an advocacy group also helping with the initiative, in comments to NJSpotlight.

While it's to be seen how many people will sign up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act during the open enrollment period starting Wednesday, but one thing should be clear: Lots of groups are ready to help.

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