A West Virginia University program that has helped thousands of West Virginians sign up for health insurance will continue for the next three years, thanks to a $408,000 grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

“West Virginia has seen the largest percentage increase of people covered by health insurance of any state in the country in the past two years,” said Michael Vernon, Ph.D., HCLD., the principal investigator for the West Virginia Healthy Start Navigator Project at WVU. “We’re very proud of the role WVU played in making that happen.”

Two healthcare navigators based at WVU have served the north central West Virginia region since 2013. Their services are available to everyone, and are targeted to groups that in the past have had difficulty obtaining health coverage, including low income pregnant women, new mothers and families, young adults, college students and recent graduates, seasonal workers and international families.

Navigators are trained specialists who provide consumers in their communities with in-person help, answering their questions about their health insurance and financial assistance options and assisting them as they complete their applications for health coverage. Navigators are knowledgeable about the range of health plans available on HealthCare.gov as well as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Program director Penny Womeldorff says the WVU navigators, based at the Monongalia and Barbour county health departments, assisted more than 5,000 people last year in Monongalia, Marion, Preston, Harrison, Taylor, Barbour, Upshur and Randolph counties. The grant renewal expanded the service area to include Tucker County for the next three years. WVU is one of 100 organizations across the country sharing $67 million in new Navigator funding awarded recently by CMS.