Fewer health care navigators available for help during open enrollment in November

(Toledo News Now) - Big changes are coming to Lucas and surrounding counties for the upcoming health insurance open enrollment period in November.

If you signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act last year, chances are a navigator helped you through the application process. It will be a lot harder getting that one-on-one help this year.

The Neighborhood Health Association's (NHA) navigator program did not get re-funded by the federal government, according to project manager Brad Clark. Now, the NHA is in the process of transitioning its services to CareNet.

"They will not have as many navigators in the community as what we had last year," Clark said. "But we also enrolled nearly 10,000 people this year, so there won't be the consumer base that was there."

Last year, a $750,000 federal grant allowed NHA to hire almost 20 navigators for just four counties: Lucas, Wood, Erie and Sandusky. This year, when open enrollment kicks off November 15, there will only be 7-8 navigators for 21 counties, making it much more difficult to get one-on-one assistance.

"It's frustrating because it will be more difficult for people to get assistance when they see the plans, especially since there were 72 (plans) last year and up to 90 this year," said navigator trainer Anna Gartner.

Gartner has tips if you get stuck during the application process:

"Call CareNet to speak with a navigator or talk to a certified agent so they can talk to you about the plans in the marketplace," she said. "A third option: every one of the carriers will have an 800 number on the website so that you can call and ask the carriers themselves about the plan design."

The navigator program will remain on the eighth floor of One Government Center, assisting anyone with questions until November 7. After that, you'll be referred to CareNet.

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