Funding cuts hamper states' efforts to help customers navigate health insurance exchanges

Editor's Note: Due to a reporter's error, a previous version of this story misstated the source of funding for Connect for Health Colorado's assistance network. The program is currently funded by Connect for Health Colorado and through a grant from the nonprofit Colorado Health Foundation.

Despite the Supreme Court's ruling to uphold a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, funding cuts have led some states to reduce their efforts to help people sign up for health insurance through either federal or state-based exchanges.

Connect for Health Colorado, for example, plans to cut by about half this year the number of sites where consumers can receive in-person assistance navigating the state exchange, Colorado Springs' The Gazette reports.

For the last two years, Connect for Health Colorado supported its assistance network with an average of $8.2 million per year through revenue from Connect for Health Colorado's federal start-up grant and annual grants from the private Colorado Health Foundation, a spokesman for Connect for Health Colorado told FierceHealthPayer in an email. With the federal grant period concluded, the network is funded this year with $500,000 from Connect for Health Colorado and a $2.5 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

This is not the first time that state-run exchanges have had issues. Financial struggles forced Hawaii to shutter its exchange last September, and many states that rely on the federal exchange outperform their state-based counterparts in terms of enrollment.

But states that use federal exchanges face their own troubles. Affordable Care Act outreach organization Get Covered Illinois will have to eliminate most of its staff due to federal funding cuts, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The federal government has given the Illinois Department of Insurance $150 million in grants to support enrollment, outreach and technical efforts for its insurance exchange, which relies on However, the federal government cut funding for such states after the first two years of enrollment, the article states.

In response to similar cuts, Maryland and Vermont chose to use state funding for consumer outreach, while other states followed California's lead and will charge insurers fees to run the exchanges, Ceci Connolly, managing director of the PwC's Health Research Institute, told the newspaper. And other state-based exchanges have requested additional funds from their legislatures, she said.

Meanwhile, the federal exchanges ended the 2015 enrollment period with 46 percent more registered agents than they had the previous year, according to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid statement.

To learn more:
- read the Gazette article
- here's the Chicago Tribune report
- access the CMS statement