Finding the Pot of Gold at the End of the Navigator Rainbow!

News that a new proposed rule on Navigators is under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) hopefully means it won’t be long before we see model navigator training, conflict of interest and privacy standards. With any luck, release of the proposed standards should pave the way for the federal navigator grant solicitation.

The navigator funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will seek proposals from qualified organizations in the 33 states where the federal government will operate the exchange, including states that have opted for State Partnership Exchanges. Navigator grants in the 17 states (and D.C.) that are building their own state-based exchanges will not be included in this solicitation. The level of funding has not been disclosed but CMS officials have said the total amount will be allocated to states based on a formula that establishes a state minimum and factors in the number of uninsured people in the state. So there will be a larger pot of money for navigator grants in states with higher uninsured rates.

Any organization considering applying for a navigator grant should complete the registration process as soon as possible. Given the dwindling timeline, it’s not clear how long applicants will have to prepare their proposals but potential applicants – particularly those who have never applied for a federal grant – can register now. This doesn’t obligate you to apply but it gets the basics out of the way so you can concentrate on the substance of your response to the grant solicitation once it is announced. While applying for a federal grant might seem as daunting as finding a four-leaf clover, provides step-by-step registration instructions in this checklist. There are five steps for registration and while most of the steps can be completed online the same day, Step 2 – registering with the System for Award Management (SAM) – can take up to two weeks.

A word of encouragement to small community-based organizations. Keep in mind that federal regulations require there to be at least two types of entities selected as navigators in any given state and one of those types must be a community or consumer-focused nonprofit organization. Capitalizing on the experience and passion in organizations that assist people with Medicaid and CHIP coverage is the best way to build a network of navigators to reach key populations of vulnerable and uninsured people and connect them to coverage. CMS officials have emphasized that all proposals – small and large – will be considered, so securing a grant could be a lot easier than catching a leprechaun!

If you want to learn more about navigators check out these two briefs:

“Countdown to 2014: Designing Navigator Programs to Meet the Needs of Consumers”

“Designing Navigator Programs to Meet the Needs of Consumers: Duties and Competencies”

For those of you who decide to apply for navigator funding, may the luck of the Irish be with you! Remember, registering now will put you five steps closer to the end of the rainbow.

Tricia Brooks is a Research Professor at the Center for Children and Families (CCF), part of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.