Maine Health Insurance Navigator Program May End Due To ACA Funding Cuts

Jul 24, 2018

A health insurance navigator program in Maine may come to an end, after the Trump administration's recent announcement to cut funding for 2019 enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's marketplace.

Since 2016, federal funding has dropped from $63 millon to $10 million dollars. Funding in Maine during that same timeframe has been reduced by more than 80 percent.

For the past couple years, Maine has received around $600,000 for the navigator program. This year, that amount has been reduced to $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,” says JJ Bartlett, the president of Fishing Partnership Support Services.

Fishing Partnership Support Services is a Massachusetts organization that partners with the Maine Lobstermen's Association to administer the insurance navigator program in Maine. Last year, the groups received $100,000 to help fishermen enroll. Now that same amount has to cover everyone across the state, and Bartlett says program administrators are questioning whether they can continue.

Bridget Thornton, a navigator with the Maine Lobstermen's Association, says the cuts threaten a service the fishing community relies on.

"During open enrollment it's crazy, and people are calling and making appointments, and I was booked out a month ahead of time for the final date of enrollment, so obviously there's a need."

Thornton also says the cut will hurt those who need help with insurance questions.

“The application process can be really confusing,” she says. “So having a direct person who you know is in Maine, knows the fishing community, kind of helps you weigh the options, has been really helpful and beneficial.”

The Trump administration announced the cuts earlier this month, saying navigators have failed to enroll enough consumers to justify previous spending levels. But Hillary Barter of Western Maine Community Action, the other grant recipient in the state, says navigators do more than help people sign up for insurance.

"So we get a lot of calls from people if they're having an issue with their current coverage, if they don't understand the eligibilty determination, if they need to file an appeal."

Barter says Western Maine Community Action's navigators have responded to more than 10,000 individual inquiries since last September and helped 1400 people sign up. She says they'll apply for funding for 2019 enrollment, but the cuts will likely limit their efforts.

Originally published July 23, 2018 12:35 p.m.