Obamacare Navigator Sign-Ups Remain Low in Pennsylvania

As the first month of the Obamacare rollout comes to an end, most of Pennsylvania’s navigator organizations said they have not guided anyone to enrollment in the federal health insurance exchange.

The organizations attributed the low enrollment to the lack of a fully functioning website.

Jake Bowling, director of advocacy and policy with the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (MHASP), told Media Trackers his organization has done a lot of important work leading up to enrollment such as educating, creating profiles, and comparing plans, but they have not been able to complete an enrollment on the faulty healthcare.gov.

“People are making important steps but we haven’t been able to complete any enrollments yet,” he told Media Trackers.

Bowling told Media Trackers he had heard a few people got through with other navigator organizations.

“I think it’s working at certain moments,” he said.

And the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers (PACHC) caught the website at one of those “certain moments.” Public Policy Director Jim Willshire told Media Trackers they had helped a couple of people complete the enrollment process.

Tom McHugh with the Advocacy Alliance told Media Trackers he has helped two people complete the paper application, though he said he has been staying away from the website.

“If you’re shopping for something you’re not going to run out after Oct. 1 and buy it,” said McHugh, a certified health insurance marketplace navigator. “I think we have a lot of people shopping right now.”

He said he has received 154 phone calls about the federal exchange and has sent out 69 paper applications. He added many of the people he has talked to have gotten a letter from their insurance carriers informing them their plan will expire on Dec. 31.

Highmark, one of Pennsylvania’s largest health insurance companies, recently announced they will be discontinuing 180,000 individual health plans by the end of next year due to Obamacare.

Other navigator organizations said they have also experienced great interest but have not yet had any successful enrollments.

Lynn Keltz, executive director of Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (PMHCA), told Media Trackers they had not yet led anyone through the complete enrollment process, though she said they have experienced a great amount of interest.

“The people who are interested are very interested,” she said.

The PMHCA works in a consortium with two other organizations, the Mental Health Association in PA (MHAPA) and Mental Health America of Westmoreland County (MHAWC). Together the three organizations received a $380,000 federal navigator grant.

Navigators are organizations already in place in the state that have received federal money to educate and help people sign up for the federal health insurance exchange, which was launched on Oct. 1. Pennsylvania’s seven navigators received a combined $2.7 million.

Laura Line, corporate assistant director for healthcare at Resources for Human Development, Inc. (RHD), told Media Trackers earlier this month RHD had not guided anyone through the whole process.

Line did not return calls to update that number this week, though she made this statement: “We continue to meet the tremendous demand for education and outreach on applying for health insurance options in the marketplace.  We are responding to requests for enrollment assistance from many individuals who are not daunted by the website challenges in their effort to get their health needs covered.”

Last week, the Patriot-News reported enrollments remained scarce according to PMHCA, the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN), and the PinnacleHealth System. Only PMHCA is an official navigator organization, but both PHAN and PinnacleHealth are Certified Application Counselors.

Antoinette Kraus, executive director of PHAN, told the Patriot-News no one has completely enrolled through her organization yet but that people have created accounts, applied for subsidies and begun to compare prices on the exchange.

Willshire told Media Trackers he had heard anecdotally of an increase in Medicaid and CHIP enrollments as well as enrollments in the federal exchange through Certified Application Counselors (CAC) — groups authorized to help enroll Pennsylvanians, but without the federal grant money.

Pennsylvania has over 180 CACs in the state. Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania appeared several times on the CAC list for Pennsylvania.

The state Insurance Department told Media Trackers they would not have an estimate of the number of enrolled Pennsylvanians until the federal government releases that information sometime next month.