WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Navigator grants for organizations providing health insurance enrollment assistance under the Navigator program. This grant announcement follows through on HHS’s previous statement that it would dramatically cut funding to $10 million, a 72% cut. This year, only 39 organizations will receive funding, compared to 83 in 2017. This critical program, a core part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), reduces barriers to enrollment and ensures that consumers from all walks of life are informed about their coverage options. Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) issued the following statement:
“It is concerning for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community that HHS has followed through on severe cuts to Navigator program funding with today’s announcement. Navigators provide an essential role to the community by providing culturally and linguistically tailored outreach. Fewer organizations receiving less money means that vulnerable populations, such as immigrants and limited-English proficient consumers, will not get the help they need to enroll in health coverage this upcoming open enrollment period.”
HHS previously cut navigator funding by 43% from $62.9 to $36.1 million in 2017. Under this year’s even deeper cut, states could see as much as 87% fewer dollars than last year, and certain communities could be left without any assistance. For example, one previous grantee, Light and Salt Association in Texas was not funded, and as a result, there are no funded organizations in the state in 2018 targeting Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders.
Amy Jones, Director of Health & Social Services, of SEAMAAC, Inc. in Philadelphia, PA shared, “We had received Navigator funding since 2015 through a sub-grant, primarily supporting families from Chinese, Bhutanese, Laotian, and Indonesian communities. However, due to the new unsustainable approach to funding, our partner declined to renew their application. The culturally and linguistically specific outreach and enrollment work that SEAMAAC conducts requires a deep level of support to families and is not sustainable under these cuts. Not having these funds will significantly hurt Asian Americans in Philadelphia whom SEAMAAC and partners have been helping to enroll.”
As reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), funding cuts in 2017 led to Navigator programs holding fewer events and reducing outreach to target populations, potentially leading to lower enrollment in federally facilitated marketplaces, which fared worse than those run by states. APIAHF, joined by other enrollment advocates, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Azar in response to the GAO’s findings, demanding that the agency improve its outreach and enrollment practices. We will continue to speak out and advocate on behalf of AA and NHPI communities to protect their right to health care and will work with partners in over 10 states to support enrollment efforts in the upcoming enrollment period.