healthcare.gov home page as of Dec. 22, 2017

Healthcare.gov home page as of Dec. 22, 2017. 

Getting help signing up for health insurance through healthcare.gov will be harder this year.

Navigators are trained and funded federally to help people through the process of enrolling. The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it’s cutting the program’s funding to $10 million nationwide, down from $36 million last year and $62.5 million in 2016.

Total navigator funding available to Pennsylvania organizations will drop almost 80 percent, from about $1.9 million last year to $400,000 this year, according to Antoinette Kraus.

She’s executive director of Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a consumer advocacy organization that has participated in the navigator program and reports enrolling more than 8,500 people since 2013,

Kraus said the network has connected with thousands more people at community events and through its helpline — and also helped consumers understand to use their newly acquired health insurance.

Locally, Lancaster Health Center has been a prominent source of assistance for those who need help enrolling. President and CEO Hilda Shirk said its funding comes from elsewhere and its services will not be affected.

“The only impact might be that more folks come to us if they want personal assistance with enrollment,” she said.

Other changes

The administration said less than 1 percent of people with healthcare.gov plans were enrolled by navigators, and it is expanding online help for enrolling and use of private agents and brokers who assisted with 42 percent of enrollment last year.

However, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said the people navigators help are Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable, “including those who have trouble enrolling online due to lack of internet access or because of a language barrier.”

In addition to the funding cut, the administration also said that for the first time it will ask navigators to inform consumers of options outside healthcare.gov — namely the short-term and “association” plans it is expanding by loosening regulations.

Those plans have many critics including Altman, who has said they cover a lot less than healthcare.gov plans and could leave consumers vulnerable and destabilize the marketplace.