CMS Rolls Out Largest-Ever Navigator PPACA Enrollment Grant Offering

CMS Rolls Out Largest-Ever Navigator PPACA Enrollment Grant Offering

Annual funding for entities driving Marketplace enrollment has increased tenfold since hitting pre-pandemic lows.

An unprecedented number of individuals are now enrolled in Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) Marketplace health insurance plans – and federal officials this week signaled that the trend can likely be expected to continue.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced the availability of half a billion dollars in grants over the next five years to increase the number of organizations that help people enroll on HealthCare.gov, marking the single largest funding allocation the agency has made available for so-called “Navigator” entities to date.

Along with making available the additional funding, CMS is encouraging eligible entities and individuals to apply for it – especially those that focus on “education, outreach, and enrollment efforts to underserved and diverse communities.”

Officials rolled out a six-question FAQ chart assembled by the CMS Office of Minority Health to address potential inquiries from providers. They noted that the primary intent of the aforementioned grant rollout was to promote “increased participation of smaller, community-based organizations as part of CMS efforts to reach people where they are.” This includes longer periods of multi-year grant funding and what they described as a shorter and easier-to-digest application process.

Organizations eligible for the grants may include but are not limited to a dizzyingly broad array of types: community and consumer-focused nonprofit groups; trade, industry, and professional associations; commercial fishing industry organizations; ranching and farming organizations; chambers of commerce; unions; resource partners of the Small Business Administration; non-healthcare licensed insurance agents and brokers; Native American tribes, tribal organizations, or urban Indian organizations; and state or local human service agencies.

CMS said it also arranged to hold two technical assistance sessions for potential applicants; the first took place on Thursday, June 13, while the second has been scheduled to run from 2-3 p.m. EST on Tuesday, July 2 on Zoom (2024 Navigator NOFO Technical Assistance Session No. 2, Meeting ID: 161 815 5550, Password: 829693). Applicants are encouraged to submit questions in advance of each session to Navigatorgrants@cms.hhs.gov.

Applications must then be received by Monday, July 8 through Grants.gov; for instructions on how to submit, see their “Quick Start Guide for Applicants.”

Not only is the $500 million total sum an all-time high devoted to Navigator grants, but the awards mark the first time such grants are being offered for more than three years of funding, “allowing grantees to better retain and add more staff who are trained to help consumers find affordable, comprehensive health coverage,” the Office of Minority Health said in its announcement. It also marks a drastic increase up to $100 million in annual Navigator grant availability, an all-time high and up tenfold from the $10 million that was allocated in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

However Navigator work has been funded, enrollment in PPACA insurance plans continues to grow; in January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a news release noting that a record 21.3 million Americans selected such a plan for the 2024 Open Enrollment Period. That included more than 5 million people new to the Marketplace coverage and 16 million who renewed their coverage.

“For decades, when it came to federal programs we could depend on to keep Americans covered, three were always top of mind – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – but now it’s crystal clear that we need to add a fourth: the Affordable Care Act,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said at the time. “Once again, a record-breaking number of Americans have signed up for affordable health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace, and now they and their families have the peace of mind that comes with coverage. The ACA continues to be a successful, popular, and important federal program to millions of people and their families. As we celebrate the success of this most recent enrollment effort, HHS will double down on the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to increase access to quality care and lower costs.”

Earlier this month, HHS issued five new reports specifically illustrating increases in coverage among minority communities since the implementation of the PPACA.

“President Biden firmly believes that health care is a right, not a privilege, and is committed to making sure that everyone one of us has the peace of mind that health insurance brings,” White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden said in a statement. “These reports show that by making health insurance more affordable, more accessible, and easier to sign up for, millions of Americans in underserved communities are now able to access the health care they need and deserve.”

“Behind the historic health equity gains championed by the Biden-Harris Administration are the countless communities we are connecting to health care coverage, often for the first time,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure added. “The combination of asking the right questions and unprecedented investments in Marketplace outreach will help us better understand the communities we serve, making coverage more attainable than ever for people who are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones.”

Specifically, officials noted, and largely attributable to gains in PPACA enrollment, the uninsurance rate for the following populations declined thusly from 2010-2022, based on available census data:

  • Black Americans: 20.9 to 10.8 percent;
  • Latinos: 32.7 to 18 percent;
  • Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI): 16.6 to 6.2 percent; and
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN): 32.4 to 19.9 percent.

To learn more about the newly unveiled Navigator grants, go online to: https://www.grants.gov/search-results-detail/349642?linkId=460945059

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Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for RACmonitor.com, ICD10monitor.com, and Auditor Monitor who has been writing and editing material about the federal oversight of American healthcare for more than a decade.

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