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March 13, 2014

Against the Odds

There’s good news about Virginia’s health insurance marketplace this week: It has already exceeded its enrollment target for this year, signing up nearly 103,000 people. The credit for this success belongs to Virginia’s hard-working, under-resourced navigators and application counselors, not the state, which forfeited millions of dollars in federal funding for consumer assistance.

Virginia only has a handful of navigators – less than 20 for the 624,000 consumers eligible to buy insurance in the marketplace. They are funded through a federal grant of $1.8 million to help walk consumers through their options in the federal marketplace.

While that may seem like a lot of money, it’s miniscule compared to what other states have received. And it’s not even close to what Virginia had the chance to get.

That’s because Virginia lawmakers made a critical mistake when they refused to pull in the additional resources available to states that take an active role in consumer assistance. That decision, motivated by the desire of some lawmakers to see health care reform fail, severely limited the resources available to help connect consumers with coverage.  

Virginia could have had 10, perhaps even 20, times as much funding had the state been more engaged. For example, Virginia got $3 per consumer eligible to buy insurance in the marketplace, while Arkansas, which agreed to actively help, received $63 per consumer.

It’s amazing that the navigators and application counselors have helped so many people with so little, but just think about what could have been if Virginia lawmakers had put their constituents ahead of partisan politics.

–Massey Whorley, Senior Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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