- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Trump administration announced Tuesday it is making further cuts to the “navigator” program that provides in-person assistance to people seeking coverage on Obamacare’s web-based marketplace.

President Trump drastically slashed funding for the grassroots groups and nonprofits during his first year in charge of the program — from about $62 million under President Obama to $36 million.

Now, for the 2019 signup season that starts in November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to award up to $10 million, with a minimum of $100,000 doled out in each of the 34 states that rely on the federally run website known as HealthCare.gov.

In justifying the cuts, CMS said the program is an “established marketplace” heading into its sixth year, so many people are more familiar with it.

It also said last year’s cuts had minimal impact, as year-over-year enrollment dipped slightly, to 11.8 million from 12.2 million, and that navigators enrolled less than 1 percent of HealthCare.gov customers overall.

CMS said insurers are advertising their offerings, too, so it’s time to pull back on navigator spending.

“It’s time for the navigator program to evolve, which is why we are announcing a new direction for the program today. This decision reflects CMS’ commitment to put federal dollars for the Federally-facilitated Exchanges to their most cost effective use in order to better support consumers through the enrollment process,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said.

CMS said navigators’ funding will be tied to their ability to sign people up in previous years. They’ll also be encouraged to look beyond the exchanges and help employees of small business sign up for “association plans” or “short-term” plans, which Mr. Trump is holding out as a cheaper alternative to Obamacare’s offering because the coverage is skimpier.

Obamacare’s defenders see the promotion of those plans, and the navigator cuts, as a way to sabotage President Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

They say the moves will siphon healthier customers out of the Obamacare markets, raising premiums for everyone, and that Republicans will pay a political price for the moves in this November’s mid-term elections.

And they note that navigator grants and promotional materials are generally funded by user fees that insurers pay, so the move is not designed to save taxpayer dollars.

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