So-called health care navigators in Tennessee are making the most of a downsized open enrollment period for Obamacare insurance plans. They're holding kickoff parties Wednesday as the shortened 6-week window begins.
While the Obamacare marketplace is now starting its fifth open enrollment period*, many people are turning to the Affordable Care Act for the very first time. Keller Hawkins is a student at Vanderbilt's divinity school.
"I was diagnosed with MS five years ago, so insurance is not an option. It's a necessity for me," she says.
Hawkins will soon be 26, too old to be on her parents' plan and on her own for insurance for the first time.
"I'm so happy that the ACA is an option as of now," she says. "Who knows what it will look like in the future, but that's kind of what I have as my option."
Hawkins has scheduled to meet with one of two-dozen Obamacare navigators working in Tennessee this year. They're hired with federal money to help enrollees find the right plan.
Given Republican efforts in Washington to limit spending on Obamacare, the $1.6 million budget for outreach and marketing in Tennessee was cut by 15 percent. However, the local navigator office was able to find other places to trim and keep roughly the same number of personnel. That compares to states like Ohio where funding was cut by more than 70 percent.
The Trump Administration has granted the money based on performance with different states getting money based on how closely they met their 2017 enrollment goal. However, many navigator groups tell NPR there doesn't appear to be a correlation.
While prices for the plans have spiked yet again, they should be set, even given the latest move to cut so-called CSR payments to insurance companies. Insurers operating in Tennessee were already planning for that money to go away.
For enrollees like Hawkins, there's a lingering concern about the future, given continued threats to repeal or dismantle Obamacare.
"We need consistent and stable health care," she says. "And not be scared every year that…the rug is going to be pulled from underneath us."
*revised for clarity