Navigating the ACA

Navigators are individuals — mostly volunteers — dedicated to assisting people in signing up for health insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare. I am one of these navigators.

Our training consisted of 20 hours of online learning. We were required to obtain a Missouri license. There are Navigators and Certified Application Counselors working at many area clinics, but our group works at the Shepherd’s Center, supported by a grant from Primaris.

Several days before the went live, we had an introductory meeting. I was impressed by the number of people who would commit a fair amount of time to this project. There were many backgrounds, including doctors, nurses and lawyers. We had all seen how lack of health insurance coverage had affected lives and were prepared for the long haul to help with the implementation of the ACA.

As everyone knows, the beginning was far from smooth.

Frustration was the name of the day as we tried to help our eager clients. Our 20 hours of training had prepared us for many things, but not for negotiating the website. This we would have to do “live,” as we had to have a client with us in order to set up profiles and accounts and in order to see the actual insurance plans. (With the improvements to the website, visitors can see the plans by clicking on a link on the first page.)

The Navigators met weekly in informal groups to share experiences, to educate each other and to pass along tips we had learned.

By the beginning of December, the website was running fairly smoothly and we had a steady stream of clients. Some clients had no experience with computers and had to start by setting up an email address. Others had already set up accounts on their own and just needed advice on the differences among insurance plans. Even with the provision of the ACA to present plans side by side, this decision was difficult. I came to believe that choosing health insurance was the most complicated financial decision most people would ever make.

The rewards are many. After I helped an older couple find insurance for the wife, the husband, who was already happily on Medicare, gave me a big hug and asked if I could also help their daughter, as her small employer did not offer health insurance.

Another Navigator helped get insurance coverage for a client with visible skin cancer. His hope was that the client’s disease had not progressed too far to respond to the treatment he would now be able to receive. A young woman with MS will be able to have MRIs to follow the progress of her disease as well as the super-expensive medication to treat it.

Health Reform

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