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July 25, 2018

Federal cuts jeopardize Maine's health insurance navigator program

Courtesy / U.S. Naval War College, Flickr
Courtesy / U.S. Naval War College, Flickr
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has been critical of what he characterizes as "sabotage of the Affordable Care Act" by the Trump administration. Among the actions that King says is making it more difficult for Maine people to take advantage of the ACA health insurance offerings is the steep funding cuts in the health insurance navigation programs that help people understand their options.

Health insurance navigation programs in Maine, which help people understand their options in the state's online Affordable Care Act Marketplace, are threatened by steep federal funding cuts.

Maine Public reported that the cut took Maine's program from $600,000 to $100,000 for 2019. For 2018, Fishing Partnership Support Services, a Massachusetts organization that partners with the Maine Lobstermen's Association to administer the program in Maine, alone received $100,000.

"With the reduction down to $100,000 to cover the entire state, it's a dramatic reduction, and we're going to just need to figure out how we can make those numbers work going forward," JJ Bartlett, president of Fishing Partnership Support Services, told Maine Public.

In partnership with Fishing Partnership Support Services, the MLA has served as a navigator to help Maine lobstermen and their families understand ACA requirements, including health insurance options, subsidies and penalties, according to the MLA website.

Fishing Partnership Support Services has been supporting the health, safety and economic security of commercial fishermen and their families since 1997, according to its website. Services include help with health insurance, safety and survival training, harborside health screenings and special programs and services, advice from legal and financial professionals, and professional counseling.

Federal government: Need for navigators is reduced

Health Affairs reported that on July 10 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a new funding opportunity announcement for the navigator program for 2019. The funding is for navigators in the 34 states with a federally facilitated marketplace, which includes Maine.

According to the July 10 CMS news release, the federally facilitated exchange navigator program is now an established marketplace for individuals seeking insurance.

"Last year we had our most cost effective and successful open enrollment to date," the release says. "As the exchange has grown in visibility and become more familiar to Americans seeking health insurance, the need for federally funded Navigators has diminished."

CMS stated in its news release that enrollment data from previous years show that "navigators failed to enroll a meaningful amount of people through the federally facilitated exchange, and not nearly enough to justify the millions of federal dollars spent on the program."

Nationally, the navigator program will receive $10 million for plan year 2019, less than one third of the funding the program received this year.

For the plan year 2018 open enrollment period, the navigator program received $36 million in federal grants, but enrolled less than 1% of the entire enrollment population. Navigators received $63 million in federal grants for plan year 2017 and enrolled less than 1%, according to CMS.

King speech critical of 'ACA sabotage' postponed

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, had been scheduled to speak on the Senate floor at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday to highlight the impact of what he's calling "ACA sabotage on Maine people," but the speech was canceled due to scheduling conflicts in the Senate, according to a release from his office.

In an advisory alerting the press of his intended speech, King noted that his visit on Monday to Leavitt's Mill Free Health Center in Bar Mills, which was established 15 years ago and provides free health care services to Maine people with no health insurance. In reporting on that visit, King said he spoke with clinic volunteers and patients who are already "feeling the effects o the administration's continued efforts to sabotage the ACA."

"Today's visit left me both inspired and disheartened – inspired to see Maine community leaders stepping up to fill a local need, and disheartened to see just how many people in York County have fallen through the cracks of our health care system," he said in a news release posted on his website. "Unfortunately, this problem will get worse before it gets better, as the administration's continued efforts to sabotage the ACA have made health insurance more expensive and harder to access for many Maine people. The volunteers at Leavitt's Mill are stepping up to fill in the gaps, but not every community is so fortunate; this is why Congress must not only defend the ACA, but find ways to improve it to ensure our health care system works for all Americans."

In a speech on the Senate floor last October, King highlighted the actions taken by the Trump administration that he believes have undermined the ACA, citing among those actions:

  • Drastic decreases for the marketplace's call center, in-person assistance and marketing.
  • Reductions in the open enrollment period, making it more difficult for the American people to sign up for coverage.
  • Reductions in marketplace outreach and navigator assistance programs to help individuals make their health care decisions.

Earlier this week, King announced his support for a resolution that would authorize the Senate Legal Counsel to intervene in a legal case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's provisions protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

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