Field navigators are trained to help people understand the basics of health insurance

By Ashley Frevert, field navigator, Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership, Inc., Pender, Neb.

“What in the world is a field navigator?” This is a question my family and friends asked me in October 2013, and I still get this question from people in my life and from those I encounter on a weekly basis. “Oh, you help people get insurance,” they say. Well, yes that’s part of what I do. However, there’s so much more.

Across the United States there are individuals called “assisters.” Community Action of Nebraska (CAN) applied for and received a federal grant that was disbursed to its agencies to employ assisters called “navigators.” I am employed with Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership, Inc. (NENCAP), and use the title “field navigator” in the work I do across Northeast Nebraska.

So, what exactly does a field navigator do? I am trained and certified to help anyone (and I mean ANYONE) understand the basics of health insurance and the Affordable Care Act. I also help those who are looking for health insurance options through the Health Insurance Marketplace. I’m sure you’ve heard it referred to as “Obamacare.” I prefer to use the term “the Marketplace.”

Navigators can help individuals and their families complete applications, understand any financial assistance they may receive, compare health insurance plans and enroll in the plan they choose through this platform. We can also help with Nebraska Medicaid applications, if needed. Medicare education and enrollments are not part of what navigators do, but we’re happy to connect those in need of assistance to the right agency. I also hold an insurance license through the Nebraska Department of Insurance.

What’s the really great aspect of being a navigator? We’re unbiased, not associated with any insurance company and provide a FREE service.

After working as a field navigator for more than three years, you start to realize that the job is so much bigger than you first believed. It’s not only about health insurance education and helping those who are underinsured or uninsured gain access to health coverage. Being an assister also means you’re willing to respond to the important and tough questions that are being asked. It doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but you are willing to be an open ear to those who are struggling and in need of someone to simply listen to their thoughts.

If our society doesn’t talk about an important situation affecting millions of people, how can things change and improve? I’ve seen the experiences and the ups and downs people face when searching for ways to get the care they need. From having incomes that are too high for financial assistance to those that are too low, people are still in need of an option for health insurance that fits into their budgets.

The thing about being unbiased is that I get to pay attention to both the good and the not-so-good when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. What I hear most from those who seek my help is about affordability and how there is finally health coverage available that won’t deny a person based on a pre-existing condition. For so long, access to health insurance was primarily available to those who were already healthy. Now, those who struggle with their health can finally gain access to care and start to become healthy.

Open Enrollment for the Marketplace opened on Nov. 1, 2016, and will continue through Jan. 31, 2017. Assisters are still available. We’re here to help, and we will continue to help those who need it no matter the outcome.

Feature photo: Ashley Frevert guides a client through the Health Insurance Marketplace. She and other field navigators across Nebraska are available to help answer questions. The open enrollment period is now open and ends Jan. 31, 2017.