Under Trump administration budget cuts two years ago, the state’s health care navigator program was reduced to one tool for finding uninsured people and getting them insured: a telephone number that’s answered in West Virginia. That’s about to change.

A $1.6 million federal grant headed to New Hampshire will maintain the hotline but will also add 16 navigators across the state. They will partner with local health care and social service agencies to help people navigate enrollment challenges of Medicare, Medicaid, and private plans in the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace.

“Our whole approach is grassroots, on the ground, reaching people where they are, trying to tackle health insurance complexity,” said Elias Ashooh, project director for the newly created Health Market Connect, which received $1 million of the grant. The company has hired about half of its 13 navigators and plans to begin by Oct. 1. “I just think it’s a win for New Hampshire.”

First Choice Services, a West Virginia company that’s operated the New Hampshire Navigator hotline for two years, will receive the remaining $600,000. Project manager Jeremy Smith said that money will maintain the phone service but also allow the company to hire three navigators who will be based at Foundation for Healthy Communities, Harbor Care, and Lamprey Health Care.

Smith and Ashooh said they plan to collaborate to avoid duplicating services. On-the-ground navigators will add an outreach piece that was not possible with only the phone line, they said. And the phone line was the only option after the Trump administration slashed the navigator budget by 83 percent. In 2020, the state received just $100,000 from the health care navigator program, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ashooh said his company’s navigators will work closely with the 13 ServiceLink locations around the state because they are already connected with their local vulnerable populations.

Initially, Ashooh expects his team will focus on a backlog of Medicaid redetermination cases, where recipients must demonstrate they still qualify for benefits. The redetermination requirement has been set aside until after the federal Public Health Emergency ends, which has been extended multiple times and is now set to expire on Oct. 20.

Ashooh said finding the right insurance plan is particularly challenging for families where one spouse qualifies for Medicare while the other is eligible for only Medicaid because enrollment and benefits are so different. Similarly, some parents with a private plan through the marketplace are unaware that their children may qualify for Medicaid.

Smith and Ashooh said they will prioritize hiring navigators who speak multiple languages.

This story originally appeared in the N.H. Bulletin.