Health centers get $150 million for insurance enrollment help

HHS says the effort is intended to simplify the process of signing up for new insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.

By — Posted May 24, 2013

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Community health centers are getting extra federal support to help inform patients of their coverage options under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services announced May 9 that it is making $150 million available to help these centers expand their enrollment assistance activities. The funds could be used to hire or train staff or hold education and outreach events.

The funding was administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the awards for the centers will be based on the number of uninsured patients they serve. On its website, HRSA provides a list of health centers in each state that are eligible for the funds (link).

One such center is the Chicago-based Access Community Health Network, which plans to use any money it receives to assist uninsured patients in applying for available ACA benefits, as well as conduct outreach. The network, which serves as a medical home for about 200,000 patients annually, said the funds “will help us meet the demand for health care services in Illinois and especially in our patient base areas.”

Community health centers don’t just treat patients, they help them navigate the health care system, said internist Gary Wiltz, MD, CEO of Teche Action Clinic in Franklin, La. He also is chair-elect of the National Assn. of Community Health Centers.

He said the funds will be critical in assisting health centers that face an unprecedented number of newly insured patients in 2014. An estimated 30 million people are expected to gain insurance through the ACA.

Teche Action Clinic is the oldest federally qualified health center in Louisiana and serves about 20,000 patients a year, Dr. Wiltz said. More than half its patients are uninsured, and the clinic has only two employees certified to enroll Medicaid patients. Dr. Wiltz said the clinic will need to hire additional staff to reach the more than 50,000 uninsured individuals who reside in the clinic’s service area.

Teche is eligible to receive $141,000 and plans to apply for the money by the end of May. In addition to hiring more staff, the clinic would do insurance assessments on its patients, update its databank, and hold health fairs or community events to conduct outreach on enrollment.

Goal of greater health care access

The funding for enrollment outreach was part of the administration’s fiscal 2013 spending plan for health centers. The $3.1 billion appropriation also included funds for 25 new health centers as well as an update to the base federal grants the health centers receive each year.

“Insurance opens the door to the broader health care system, and health centers have long worked to connect our patients to coverage and improved health care whenever it is available,” the NACHC said in a statement. The organization said it would continue efforts to work with federal regulators and lawmakers to ensure health care coverage and access.

HHS said the outreach money is one of several efforts to simplify the process of applying for health insurance in 2014, once major coverage expansions take effect. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently issued a shorter, more streamlined application to make it easier for consumers to see all their insurance options.

The American Medical Association, as part of its policy on health system reform proposals, has advocated that community health centers and other facilities that take care of underserved populations receive adequate and steady financial support under any national reform bill.

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