Grant funding has been cut in each of the past two years. Now recipients are encouraged to offer information on skimpier options.
After slashing funding by more than 84% over two years, the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Wednesday which recipients would share $10 million in grant funding for so-called "Navigators," who help consumers sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
But there's a new wrinkle, beyond the smaller funding pool, for the program's 39 recipients this year. In addition to partnering with public and private community organizations and pursuing virtual assistance, the recipients will be expected to provide information about association health plans (AHP) and short-term limited duration (STLD) insurance, which are cheaper than ACA-compliant plans because they offer less coverage than ACA-compliant plans.
"The grants announced today mark a new direction for the Navigator program aimed at providing a more cost-effective approach that takes better advantage of volunteers and other community partners," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement Wednesday.
"This new direction will increase accountability and ensure the grants are effective in helping consumers find health coverage that meets their needs," Verma added. "We will continue to monitor the impact of these changes with the primary goal of ensuring consumers have the resources to select a health plan that best fits their needs."
Unsurprisingly, in light of the overall funding reduction, many of the awardees will receive much less this year than they did last year. The Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, for example, which received more than $700,000 last year, was granted only $300,000 this year, according to CMS' list of grant recipients for 2018 and 2017.
That wasn't the case, however, for all recipients. The Georgia Refugee Health and Mental Health, for example, which received less than $154,000 last year, will receive nearly $500,000 this year.
The most marked decrease came in the form of fewer recipients. There were about 90 last year, only 34 this year—with none in Iowa, Montana, or New Hampshire, where no one applied.
Steven Porter is editor at HealthLeaders.