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Advocates push passage of health deal as open enrollment nears

Mary Ellen McIntire, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

While advocates want that money to be effective during this year's sign-up period, they say it can still be useful afterward and is important for 2019.

"While more money and resources would be welcome, it's really late in the game for that to make a real profound difference in the next open enrollment period," said Liz Hagan, associate director of policy at the National Association of Health Access Assisters. "But Alexander-Murray would seemingly have that money moving forward included as well."

There is a "small window" for the measure to affect 2018 coverage, said Lori Lodes, a co-founder of Get America Covered, a group aimed at signing people up founded by two former Health and Human Services officials during the Obama administration.

Even if the additional advertising money were available before the end of the sign-up period, it would be a last-minute purchase and therefore more expensive, Lodes said.

"It's hard to see how the money could be used this year in a way that it would be as effective as it would be if they had not taken the money away in the first place," she said.

Additionally, many navigators, who assist consumers in signing up for health care coverage, have already had to restructure their staffs and budgets in light of an administration decision to cut their funding by 41 percent compared to last year.

Navigators work year-round to help people understand how to use their coverage, so the funding would still be used, Lodes said. Each year, some people don't pay their premiums and therefore don't maintain their coverage.

Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will not notify consumers if they are being automatically re-enrolled in their plans until after the sign-up period ends, a change from past years. That sparks concerns that those consumers could be surprised by higher premiums and not maintain coverage, said Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at Families USA. Navigators could help those people.

"In an ideal world, we would see this problem solved immediately," he said. "If it doesn't get fixed until after enrollment begins, it's still very important that the problem be solved as quickly as possible."

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