New Survey Highlights Impact and Scope of Assister Programs

By Jessica Burnell

As we know, in-person assistance is an incredibly important piece of the health coverage enrollment puzzle. And recently, Kaiser Family Foundation released a first-of-its-kind survey on in-person assisters (Navigators, In-Person Assisters [IPAs], Certified Application Counselors [CACs], and other entities that provide enrollment assistance).

Here are some of the key findings from the survey:

  • More than 4,400 assister programs employed over 28,000 staff and volunteers across the country to help roughly 10.6 million consumers during the initial open enrollment period (OEP1). CACs were most common, making up 45 percent of the total number of assister programs.

Make sure to check out Enroll America’s issue brief, Certified Application Counselor Program: Early Lessons, for examples of how CACs made excellent and creative use of resources to reach consumers. 

  • Most of the consumers who sought help from an assister program were uninsured. Almost 90 percent of programs reported that most or nearly all of the consumers they helped during OEP1 were uninsured. Thus assister programs were largely able to help those consumers who had the most to gain from getting connected to coverage.
  • The main reasons consumers sought help with the enrollment process were a lack of understanding of the Affordable Care Act, the enrollment process, or how health insurance works. Limited health insurance literacy was especially prevalent, with three-quarters of assister programs saying most or nearly all of the consumers who considered purchasing private insurance coverage needed help to understand basic health insurance terms and concepts.
  • Coordination among assister programs maximized success. Nearly half of the assister programs reported that they coordinated with other assisters on a regular or ad hoc basis. Coordinating allowed assisters to reach more individuals and make warm hand-offs to other organizations when needed. Heightened coordination was an especially effective strategy in North Carolina, where stakeholders created a single phone line for consumers to make appointments for in-person help. This effort helped North Carolina enroll over 200,000 people during OEP1.

Using lessons learned from North Carolina and other enrollment stakeholders, Enroll America will be launching a nationwide assister scheduling system, the Connector, in advance of OEP2 — stay tuned! Email connector@enrollamerica.org to learn more.

  • Three-quarters of assister programs say they will continue to provide enrollment assistance through the next OEP and into 2015. And 84 percent say they will continue to provide assistance this year through the beginning of OEP2 (November 15, 2014-February 15, 2015). Millions of Americans will be eligible for Special Enrollment Periods or will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and thanks to the number of assister programs who will continue to operate until OEP2 and beyond, consumers will be able to find the help they need to get connected to coverage year-round.

This survey reaffirms that in-person assisters were able to reach millions to successfully connect individuals to coverage. Although OEP1 was a success, there does remain room for improvement to ensure assisters are able to handle the new wave of consumers that will be seeking help with enrollment and renewals during OEP2. Additional and timely trainings, improving the helpfulness of marketplace call centers, and providing assister programs with designated lines to get ahold of marketplace call centers were just a few of the suggestions made by assisters.

For more details on these findings, click here to read the full survey report.

And to read the topline survey results, click here.

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