A woman speaks with a GetCoveredTenn health care navigator.

An expanded team of health care navigators is busy helping thousands of Tennesseans during open enrollment, thanks to a grant from the federal government. Funding for the program was reduced in 2018 by 80%. It was restored in September.

“The previous navigator program had been cut under the previous administration in D.C.,” said Michael McSurdy, president and CEO of GetCoveredTenn. “The navigator program had been cut down to $350,000 for navigation. We had five navigators and some volunteers for the entire state. The funding has been restored to over $2 million for the state.”

GetCoveredTenn has used the funding to expand its team of navigators.

Health care navigators are nonprofit employees who work for federally funded organizations. They help people apply for and enroll in health insurance programs.

“We’re in the midst of our busy period,” said Leah Jaynes, lead navigator for GetCoveredTenn. “We’re in the midst of open enrollment, which is the period of time anyone who is qualified can sign up for health insurance. During open enrollment, we have in-person, over the phone and video chat appointments to help individuals and families sign up for health insurance. I’m averaging seven appointments a day where we go through the entire enrollment process, where it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.”

In 2020, GetCoveredTenn had a team of five navigators and helped 1,200 residents with their health insurance enrollment. The team has expanded to 20 and expects to help 4,000 to 5,000 people this year.

Health care navigators help people who are struggling with navigating their options and working through problems on the health care websites.

“There are people out there who can navigate this fine,” McSurdy said. “There aren’t enough navigators to help all the people who enroll this year through the federal marketplace, but we’re helping that group of folks who need assistance.”

GetCoveredTenn is a statewide initiative coordinated by Family Children’s Service, a Nashville-based organization, with support from hundreds of partners in the state. They help uninsured people and families navigate their health care options, including the ACA Marketplace, CoverKids, TennCare, CharityCare, job-based insurance and other state and private options.

While most people with work-based insurance have HR departments for assistance, the average person using the ACA website has no help navigating their health care options.

“The average person just has a website and that’s it,” McSurdy said. “They’re not going to get anyone from the federal government on the phone to help them so that’s why groups like GetCovered exist.”

GetCoveredTenn hopes to help the 300,000 uninsured people in the state find a health care option that works.

“Health insurance is very complicated,” said Aram Khoshnaw, a director at Family Children’s Health Care Access. “People need to know a lot of information before they can get signed up for a plan that will help them do what they want to do. The point of this navigator program is to help consumers explore their options, for a navigator to give them all the information they need so the consumer can actually make an informed decision about which plan will help them.”

Open enrollment for the ACA Marketplace is available through Jan. 15, 2022.

People interested in seeking assistance from GetCoveredTenn can call 866-475-7879 or go to

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