Obama’s State Of The Union Opportunity — Be The ‘Navigator-In-Chief’

Obama’s State Of The Union Opportunity — Be The ‘Navigator-In-Chief’

No can say with certainty how many working Americans have gained Medicaid coverage thanks to Obamacare in the last few months.

President Obama’s supporters recently trumpeted an estimate of around five million. Charles Gaba — whose now-famous spreadsheet at ACASignups.net has been cited by White House officials — says the number may be as high as 6.4 million. Journalist Sean Trende estimates that “no more than 1.9 million” have gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. He attributes the rest of the enrollments to previously eligible people who simply signed up for existing benefits.

What we know for sure is that since Obamacare’s open enrollment began, millions of previously uninsured Americans now have government-subsidized health insurance, in addition to the 2.2 million who have picked a private plan. The creation of online marketplaces seems to have a halo effect of encouraging people who were previously eligible for a state-run plan to get coverage.

The resurrection of HealthCare.gov gives the administration new hope of meeting its goal of getting millions of people — including as many healthy individuals as possible — to pick private plans while enrolling as many of the 14 million Americans just above the poverty level who are eligible for Medicaid expansion.

While the online exchanges make this goal possible, many people may be turned off by how the site works.

Even without the painful delays that plagued the first two months of HealthCare.gov, customers do not find out if they will benefit from tax credits and subsidies available to 17 million middle-class Americans until they enter information about their employer and income. This process can feel “pretty arduous,” according to health care expert Adrianna McIntyre, especially to people who have never signed up for health insurance.

Time Magazine’s Stephen Brill tells the story of a man with cancer whose family finally has decent health insurance due to the health reforms enacted by a president they despise. However, they needed help from an insurance broker to get through their resistance to the law and help pick out a plan that worked best for them.

To combat the challenge of picking a plan, the Affordable Care Act includes funding for navigators to help with the enrollment process. (And to combat the invaluable help the navigators offer, Republicans have conjured various ways of sabotaging their efforts.)

President Obama will have an enormous opportunity this month to help direct the millions of uninsured Americans who have not yet started or completed enrolling in a health care plan. Last year about 33 million Americans watched the president deliver his State of the Union address. If that audience resembled America, about 85 percent of them got their insurance through their employers. But as many as five million of those watching lacked coverage that would satisfy the individual mandate.

The president can deliver two invaluable messages in this year’s address. First he can encourage those who do not know if they’re eligible for tax credits to find out, either by going through the enrollment process or simply checking out an online subsidy calculator. Next he can direct those who think they need help from someone in their area to the navigator finder on HealthCare.gov.

This State of the Union comes at a crucial time for the future of health care reform, which has already proven to be a potent way of getting people to take advantage of benefits they may not have been aware of.

Now, with just over two months until the deadline for enrollment, the president doesn’t need to sell the law. He just needs to make it easy for those who will benefit most from it to find out what they may be missing.

AFP Photo/Karen Bleier


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