It seems like no matter where you turned this spring, everyone was talking about health insurance Exchanges. These competitive marketplaces for health insurance are intended to provide individuals, families and small businesses with better options and information to choose the best health plan for them. But most of us who have had to research and buy health insurance on our own know that it’s no easy task.

The majority of people who will be using the Exchange to find health insurance will be low-income and accessing subsidies. A recent study found that people in Exchanges are more likely to have low literacy rates, more limited English proficiency, and be more likely to have been uninsured in the past than the population outside of the Exchange. So, how will Exchanges ensure that people with barriers to health insurance find a path through the red tape to get the coverage and the care they need?

Consumers need a guide – and that is a “Navigator.” The Affordable Care Act included a provision for state Exchanges to fund Navigators to help people in Exchanges find the right coverage for them. There are a variety of groups that the ACA proposes as Navigators, including chambers of commerce, brokers, and community-based organizations. Our work now is making sure that states choose Navigators that are appropriate to serve the needs of the people who will get insurance through Exchanges.

As states continue to wrestle with creating Exchanges, we need to keep talking about the role of Navigators – and which groups are most likely to be trusted guides for consumers in the Exchange. Navigators should be guides who reach people in their own communities, who speak their language and understand cultural differences. Navigators should be guides who understand how difficult it can be to get and keep health insurance and who want to work one-on-one with consumers.

Community Catalyst has developed new resources to help advocates continue to talk about Navigators in your coalitions and with other stakeholders and policymakers. The Navigator role was included in the ACA to help make the Exchange marketplaces real for people. It’s our responsibility to make sure Navigators are truly representative of the people they will serve.

— Christine Barber, Senior Policy Analyst