Groups get more federal funds to help people navigate health insurance purchases

08/15/2013 11:00 AM

08/15/2013 11:00 AM

Three organizations in Kansas will receive more than $886,000 in federal grants to help people navigate and sign up for health insurance in the new online marketplace that is part of the Affordable Care Act, according to a news release.

Under the health care law, nearly everyone will be required to have health insurance starting Jan. 1. The federal government has created an online health insurance marketplace at www.HealthCare.gov for people without access to affordable insurance. There, under the government plan, consumers will be able to buy insurance and see if they qualify for federal subsidies.

Enrollment for the marketplace, also called insurance exchanges, will begin Oct. 1 and continue through March. The plans, which have to include certain minimum benefits, vary from state to state. Little information about the cost of the plans or what they will include has been released by federal or state officials.

The largest Kansas grant recipient is the Topeka-based Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved. It’s set to receive $524,846.

The association serves as the lead agency for the new Kansas Marketplace Consortium, which is made up of more than 420 organizations, including safety net clinics, health departments, hospitals, mental health centers and agencies on aging.

The consortium will provide enrollment assistance to at least 48,000 eligible Kansans statewide, said Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved.

“It will be huge job ... but when you look at the number of members in the consortium, I think 48,000 is very achievable,” she said.

The majority of the funding will go toward hiring a project director and three project coordinators who will serve the state, Harding said. The project director will be based at the Topeka office, and the coordinators will be in Wichita, southwest Kansas and southeast Kansas with consortium members in those areas, she said.

With the enrollment period fast approaching, the organization has already interviewed six people for the project director position. They plan on completing the hiring process soon, Harding said. Once in place, the director will help to hire staff for the other positions.

The grant period is for a full year, but the busiest time will be the enrollment period from October to March, Harding said. During the rest of the year, the coordinators will be expected to continue to educate people about the marketplace and to help people with changes – such as losing a job – that could lead to changes in their insurance coverage.

Ascension Health, which owns Wichita-based Via Christi Health System, will receive $165,683 in grant money. A spokeswoman for Via Christi said the grant will go toward salaries, equipment and supplies for two full-time navigators who will focus on enrolling patients without insurance who need cancer services.

The navigators will be at the hospitals on St. Francis and East Harry in Wichita. They also will travel to clinics in Sedgwick, Sumner and Cowley counties as needed.

Advanced Patient Advocacy, active in 21 states and based in Virginia, will receive $195,556. President Wendy Bennett said the funds will go toward hiring additional navigators and participating in community events and health fairs to help educate people on the marketplace.

The company, which primarily works with hospitals to identify patients who do not have coverage, works in Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas, Labette and Leavenworth counties. They expect to screen about 34,000 additional people in those counties as part of the marketplace enrollment process, Bennett said.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, navigators will be required to complete 20 to 30 hours of training to be certified and must renew their certification yearly.

The grants are part of more than $67 million given to 105 applicants nationwide.

They are in addition to the $1.6 million awarded to more than 15 health centers across the state in July for the purpose of hiring people to help navigate the new insurance marketplace. The first round of grants totaled about $150 million nationwide for community health centers.

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