Plight of the Navigator

December 6, 2013

Since the opening of the Affordable Care Act Marketplace (, more
questions than answers have arisen about the process of attaining health care
insurance. Luckily, for Health Partners, we have Stephanie to guide our community
through the ins and outs of affordable care. Stephanie is a Marketplace Navigator, and
you may wonder what exactly that means. We sure did when the Ohio Association of
Free Clinics ask if we would like to have a Navigator. We didn’t know then how
blessed we would be to have her through a grant received by the Ohio Food Banks.
Stephanie is a guide to those in need, a friend to the underserved, and a source of
hope to the downtrodden. She defines the position in her own words:

What is a Navigator?

Well…that is a good question.
Please let me know when you find out!

No. No. No. I am only kidding.

Though, in all seriousness, just as with any newly created position, the more I learn, the more I notice that the role is consistently evolving. So, for explicative purposes, I will provide you with the best and most non-jargonized definition I could find:

NAVIGATOR: An individual or organization that’s trained and able to help consumers, small businesses, and their employees as they look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including completing eligibility and enrollment forms. These individuals and organizations are required to be unbiased. Their services are free to consumers. (

In layman’s terms, a Navigator is an individual whose sole responsibility is to help the public follow the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate, and obtain healthcare coverage.

My story, is that after a couple weeks of training, trying to absorb and understand all of the intricacies that are involved in insurance agendas, especially one that has to follow federal legislation, I officially became, “A Certified Marketplace Navigator”.

My first mission and test of my knowledge, was to actually go through the entire enrollment process, from start to finish, and personally sign up for my own insurance coverage. That is right; the Navigator had to navigate herself. And you know what, with all of my training, reading, studying and conversing over the topic for weeks, I did not find the process that daunting.

Imagine that!

Now, the thing that became so evident to me as I double-clicked the ‘Accept’ button, was that weeks before I began my quest as “A Certified Marketplace Navigator”, when I was nothing but a lowly, uninsured twenty-something wandering the tough streets contemplating life (or an educated, uninsured twenty-something wandering around her suburban plat contemplating whether she had burned enough calories to go home; either will work in this case), I would have had no idea whatsoever of how to start the process, how to enroll, or what ‘Marketplace’ even meant. I was just as lost as many of the public. I would have got as far as inputting into my address bar, and from there I would have been blankly staring at my computer screen.

That was when I had a revelation, an ‘Aha moment’ if you will. That is exactly why I am here! It really is not that simple. This process that has been put out for the general public to complete with in-depth and personal information is really not just a walk in the park. There are questions that to the untrained eye, i.e., someone who is NOT “A Certified Marketplace Navigator”, may have no definitive answer, may have legal repercussions if improperly answered, and ultimately may affect the future of their family’s health options. That’s some scary stuff.

Being of the ‘educational varity’, which is a nice way of saying I am stubborn and must have personal experience before I believe something to be true, this revelation was exactly what was needed for me, and in my opinion, any Navigator. I had been given firsthand knowledge of how it feels to be worried and confused about the future of my health, and what seems most afflicting to the public, worried and confused about the future of my pocketbook, as well. This additional stressor to everyday life was different though, because this stressor being the future of my health, affects every other issue in my life. What is the point of having my gassed up vehicle, if I am too sick to go anywhere? What is the point of buying groceries for my family, if we are all too ill to keep anything in our systems? And though it may seem extreme, it does drive home the point; What is the point of paying my house payment or rent, if my main residence ultimately becomes Room 2017 in the nearby hospital?

Without our health, we have nothing.

So my purpose as a Navigator, is actually to help people hold on to their somethings.

My ultimate adventures and brutal training as “A Certified Marketplace Navigator” are just that, adventures and training. Nothing compares to a commonality held between an aide and their client. That level of identification, empathy, and respect cannot be given in a Handbook.

With that being said, it seems that the official definition previously given certainly suffices as a general explanation for the population. But for me, and for those I am here to help and assist, a few personal touches would not hurt. So here is the definition that fits this navigator’s take:

NAVIGATOR: An individual or organization that is available to provide services to anyone who needs them. With official training on the Affordable Care Act and the Marketplace, and the Ohio Department of Insurance’s stamp of approval, the navigator has the administrative skills to direct people through the process of obtaining health coverage. With official training as a person whose health, financial and personal future has been up in the air, and who has been lost and worried about the course that is to come, the navigator has the empirical skills to supportively direct people through the process of obtaining health coverage.