WASHINGTON -- While health care uncertainty roils Washington, the rest of the country is coasting toward Obamacare season.
Open enrollment is just about a month away. But the current landscape is marked by funding cuts and other White House efforts to pull back on Affordable Care Act outreach, which has led some people to brace for what they foresee as the toughest season yet.
And the latest wrinkle? In states that use the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov, many navigators -- nonprofit groups and workers who receive federal funding to help consumers enroll -- are hitting snags completing a mandatory certification course. Those credentials are required before they can formally advise consumers or organize educational events about getting coverage.
To be sure, the training -- which involves buggy, not-so-user-friendly software -- has never been a smooth process.
But this year, many say they're experiencing more technical glitches and -- in a critical shift -- getting less help from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency tasked with supporting them.
"It used to be ... you got the impression they were trying to help you," said Randal Serr, director of Take Care Utah, a navigator organization based in Salt Lake City. "Now it seems, passively, this is not their priority." He reports that he has experienced firsthand the slow responses to these technical difficulties.
CMS did not provide comment for this story.
Chief among the complaints are repeated error messages and lost or unsaved work after sections of the training are completed.
Based on interviews with navigators as well as advocates and experts who work with their organizations, when these problems arise, they compound an already uphill climb to sign people up for ACA health coverage.
"I don't know how much icing we need on this cake, but it's more icing on the cake," said Shelli Quenga, director of programs for the Palmetto Project in South Carolina, whose federal grant was cut by more than 50 percent.