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Groups Helping Texans Sign Up For Obamacare Set To Lose 86 Percent Of Federal Funds

Gabriel C. Pérez
Residents wait to get help enrolling for health insurance through Obamacare at Foundation Communities in North Austin in 2016.

The Trump administration recently announced big cuts to a program that helps people sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Ahead of open enrollment, which starts later this year, the money Texas gets to hire navigators – people who help residents find insurance plans – is getting slashed 86 percent. For the enrollment period ending in January, Texas groups will be able to apply for only up to $1.25 million in federal funds.

“That’s a drop in the bucket,” says Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “That is a tiny amount. It would not go very far when you're talking about more than 4 million uninsured Texans.”

Pogue says it’s also a small number compared to how much the state has been given in years prior. According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Texas was allotted $9.2 million in navigator grants during the 2016-17 enrollment period.

Kori Hattemer, director of financial programs with Foundation Communities in Austin, leads the biggest navigator program in Central Texas. The process of getting a health insurance plan can be complicated.

“We educate people on all of the different plan options,” Hattemer says. “And then we are open year-round to help people overcome any barriers to actually accessing health care and using their health insurance.”

Hattemer says getting a plan through the individual marketplace, which was created through Obamacare, can be tough for anyone. In fact, she says, she’s heard of people losing out on tax credits they're eligible for because they didn’t fill out the application right.

“A lot of the people who come in and ask for our help have tried to do it on their own and were unable to – or their application was done incorrectly, even if they had someone from the marketplace help them,” she says. “And so we are able to make corrections.”

And while Foundation Communities, which serves Central Texas, doesn’t rely on federal funds, Hattemer says she’s worried about organizations in other parts of the state that do.

Pogue says this big cut to funding for navigator groups means there will also be less education and outreach to people who may not know what’s going on.

“When navigator funding is cut even more and there are so few resources left in Texas, we will have many more people who are eligible who could be getting help, who could get a plan that meets their needs," Pogue says, "and won’t know that it exists, won’t know that there’s financial assistance, won’t know the deadline to enroll and will miss out on coverage because they simply lacked awareness.”

Pogue says these cuts are part of the Trump administration’s larger effort to weaken the health care law.

She says this particular cut, though, hurts people who are vulnerable and live in hard-to-reach areas. Cities like Austin, which have groups like Foundation Communities, won’t feel the cuts as much as rural parts of the state.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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