As open enrollment kicks off in Iowa, navigators expect many new enrollees to the ACA exchange

Iowans can now sign up for ACA health coverage through Dec. 15

ACA navigator Karen Wielert with Medicaid open enrollment at the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids in this 20
ACA navigator Karen Wielert with Medicaid open enrollment at the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids in this 2014 photo. (The Gazette)

As Iowans enter open enrollment for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act this week, those working in the state to help residents sign up for health insurance through the marketplace are expecting more new enrollees as a result of the economic fallout that’s faced many Americans this year.

This year marks the eighth open enrollment period since the ACA was created by the Obama administration, in which individuals and their families can sign up for health coverage for 2021. Open enrollment, which started Nov. 1, will last until Dec. 15.

Though many already are familiar with the process of signing up for a plan through the marketplace, health insurance navigators say they’re hearing from more individuals who are new to the ACA.

“This year is going to be special because we know thousands have lost their jobs, and therefore their insurance due to the pandemic,” said Jeremy Smith, program director for Iowa Navigator.

“We know there’s thousands who are used to getting insurance through their job, but now they may have to look elsewhere for the first time ever.”

Iowa Navigator officially launched in Iowa last year after receiving $100,000 per year from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to help consumers in Iowa enroll for coverage through the exchange. The service is free to all Iowa residents.

Iowa Navigator was launched by First Choice Services, a call-in service company based in West Virginia. It also offers navigator services in New Hampshire, Montana and West Virginia.


According to the latest unemployment claims, Iowa saw a slight increase in new claims this past month, with 4,971 claims between Oct. 18 and 24. Continuing claims, however, have decreased over the past several weeks.

These individuals would have qualified for the ACA under special enrollment periods as a result of job loss, but Smith said some of those individuals may not have known they could have signed up for insurance at that moment.

Now that open enrollment is more widely publicized, he expects those individuals to start looking at their marketplace options.

Smith said he hopes these people consider enrolling for coverage through the exchange, rather than go without insurance until they get their next job.

“In our country, if you don’t have insurance and something happens to you or family, it could bankrupt you,” Smith said. “It’s extremely important that you don’t want to put off the medical care you need.”

The Trump administration has attempted to undermine the ACA by reducing funding of parts of the program touting enrollment, including navigator programs. As a result, Iowa saw an 83 percent cut to federal funding for navigator programs between 2016-20, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In 2016, Iowa had received $603,895 in federal funding, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This year, Iowa received $100,000 — which went to Iowa Navigator, the sole navigator program in the state.

Smith said enrollees can also turn to certified application counselors, or CACs, who also are qualified to assist consumers with marketplace enrollment and are located at federally qualified health centers across the state, including the Eastern Iowa Health Center.


Many Iowans could qualify for advance premium tax credit, which are subsidies that help reduce the cost of coverage. Last year, eight in 10 of their applications qualified for these tax credits, Smith said.

But for those who don’t qualify for those subsidies, the Iowa Insurance Commissioner has said in the past that the cost of a plan on the marketplace is unaffordable.

In an effort to offer an alternative to those Iowans, Commissioner Doug Ommen approved the sale of short-term limited-duration plans earlier this year. These plans were created to help fill a temporary gap in health insurance coverage.

“While short-term limited-duration coverage was previously meant to fill small gaps, due to the unaffordability of ACA coverage, we’ve worked hard with carriers and other stakeholders to develop common-sense regulations at the state level that will help provide meaningful health coverage to Iowans at a price they can afford through short-term limited-duration plans,” Ommen said at the time.

For people to know whether an ACA plan will work for them, Smith said it’s important for Iowans to do their research and call the experts that can help them enroll.

Iowa residents looking for navigator services can reach out to Iowa Navigator at (515) 978-9570 to schedule a telephone or video appointment.

More information on Iowa Navigator can be found on its website at

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