A healthcare program that funds 'navigators' who assist people in signing up for insurance and maintaining coverage is being drastically slashed. The budget is being cut from about $1.5 million to a maximum of $300,000.
For the approximately 500,000 Tennesseans without insurance, the cut could mean they would be on their own to navigate the complicated process.
"A family will come to us and the father will be eligible for insurance on the marketplace, and the mother may be eligible for insurance through TennCare, and the child may be eligible for insurance through CoverKids," Family & Children's Service CEO Michael McSurdy said. "So we're really helping one family with three different insurance applications."
McSurdy's group has developed a statewide network of navigators who help people sign up for insurance through educational outreach and in-person appointments.
During the last grant year, the group signed up more than six thousand Tennesseans for coverage through the ACA market. The navigators also guide people to get insurance through the state Medicaid programs.
"We were able to do that before because we had enough navigators, but now we won't be able to," Program Director Sandy Dimick said. "That's going to be a problem for the people who are going to fall through the cracks."
The navigator program is reaching out to state lawmakers to help fill the gaps in funding.
Even if the program limps along this year, there will be more instability in the future. Last year's grant was available for three years, but now it's being limited to one year. This means there is little-to-no way to prepare for the future.
"You're building a system that you're always planning on dismantling because you don't know where the funding is going to come from," McSurdy said.
Potentially, just four health care navigators will serve the entire state of Tennessee for the coming enrollment period in November.