Hospitals

$54M in grants will help enroll uninsured in 33 states

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it will award $54 million to community groups to provide personal assistance for people signing up on the new online health insurance marketplaces that open Oct. 1.
The size of the long-awaited grants offers a …

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it will award $54 million to community groups to provide personal assistance for people signing up on the new online health insurance marketplaces that open Oct. 1.

The size of the long-awaited grants offers a glimpse into the potential difficulties of carrying out the health law in the 33 states, including Texas and Florida, which are relying on the federal government to run all or part of their marketplaces.

“There’s no way that’s enough money to make a difference,” said John Poelman, a senior director of Leavitt Partners, a consultant working with many states to set up the marketplaces.

Stan Dorn, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban institute, called the money “a drop in the bucket.” “It’s not enough to enroll tens of millions of uninsured into coverage.”

>> Navigator Grant Funding By State

The $54 million in federal grants for so-called “navigators” covers one year and will be distributed to states based on how many uninsured they have. Texas and Florida, for instance, with almost nine million uninsured, will get $14 million. In contrast, California, which is setting up its own exchange, has budgeted more than $50 million for ‘in person’ help for consumers this year and next.

Navigators are supposed to provide unbiased information to consumers about obtaining health insurance in the new marketplaces.

Health experts and consumer advocates worry that the states that are relying on the federal exchange will get less help than people in states with their own exchange. The marketplaces, which open for enrollment Oct. 1 with the coverage taking effect Jan. 1, are the key way the federal health law is attempting to provide health coverage to about 27 million people by 2016.

Hospitals, county health agencies, religious group and chambers of commerce are among the kinds of groups expected to apply for the grants. Applications are due June 7 with awards being made in August.

“I think HHS would probably be the first to say it’s not enough, but it’s a great start, and it’s an important down payment,” said Ethan Rome, executive director of the advocacy group, Health Care for America Now.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a consumer health group, applauded the announcement of the pot of money, but said private groups would have to pitch in to help enroll people, as well.

“The federal funding will significantly assist community based groups who are closest to serving the needs of the uninsured with the task of educating and enrolling millions of people in a short time period,” she said. “However, additional support from state, local agencies, providers and others will be needed to make sure that everyone is aware of the opportunities.”

Texas consumer advocates said they were happy to get funding to help the enrollment effort.

“Any money that they’re putting forward is more than there is right now, which is zero,” said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin. “At least it’s proportional to our number of uninsured.”

“Navigators will be an important resource for the millions of Americans who are eligible to enroll in new coverage opportunities through the Marketplace starting in October of 2013,” CMS Acting Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a statement.

Adam Searing, project director of North Carolina Health Access Coalition, said his state will have far less money for outreach than those setting up their own marketplaces, but that’s mostly because its politicians opposed the law and did not want a role implementing it. He noted the state this week gave up $74 million in funding for the exchange which could have been used for outreach. “We know we will have less money,” he said.

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.