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Originally published April 10, 2013 at 5:58 p.m., updated April 11, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.
TOPEKA Advocacy groups today learned that Kansas’ share of a federal grant program meant to help more than 300,000 consumers navigate the state’s health insurance exchange has been capped at $600,000.
“That’s not a lot of money,” said Anna Lambertson, executive director at the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition.
KHI News file photo
“I guess something is better than nothing,” said Cathy Harding, with the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved. “But $600,000? You could spend that much just in Sedgwick County.”
Federal officials on Tuesday announced that $54 million in co-called navigator grants were being made available to public and private consumer groups in the 33 states — including Kansas — that have decided to let the federal government administer their exchanges.
For 12 states, the grants were capped at $600,000. Grant amounts for the remaining 20 states ranged from almost $800,000 for Arkansas to $8.1 million for Texas.
The amounts depended on the projected numbers of uninsured residents under age 65 in each state.
Kansas had by far the most uninsured residents of any of the 12 states capped at $600,000:
“I think what this shows is how important it’s going to be for organizations in Kansas to work together, to form some sort of collaborative to make the most of our respective resources,” Lambertson said.
“Kansas is a big state with a lot of uninsured people,” she said. “And it’s not like the navigators are going to able sit in an office and wait for people to come them. There’s going to a lot of outreach in communities all across the state.”
The online exchanges — also known as marketplaces — are a key component of the Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or pay a penalty.
In recent months, Lambertson and others have raised concerns that many of the of the state’s uninsured are poor, lack easy access to the internet, and are unaware of the ACA’s requirements, of the exchange, or of the subsidies designed to make health insurance affordable.
Harding said KAMU is willing to collaborate with other groups interested in applying for a navigator grant. “Oh, absolutely,” she said. “This is going to be a huge challenge. I don’t think any of us can do it alone.”
Linda Sheppard, director of the Kansas Insurance Department’s division of accident and health insurance, said the department last year estimated that outreach would cost $12 million, “just for the in-person assister” portion of an effective outreach initiative.
The department’s plan to apply for a Kansas-specific navigator grant was shelved last November when Gov. Sam Brownback announced that his administration would “not partner with the federal government to create a state-federal partnership insurance exchange because we will not benefit from it and implementing it could costs Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars."
In 2011, Brownback returned a $31.5 federal grant to build the state's own exchange.
The governor’s decisions have led to the federal government taking over the design and administration of Kansas’ exchange.
Federal officials expect the exchanges to be up by Oct. 1, offering private health insurance and Medicaid coverage.
Navigators, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will provide consumers with “fair, accurate, and impartial” information on how to access the system and on which polices best meet their needs.
Navigator grant applications are due June 7. Grants will be awarded on or before Aug. 15. More information is available at grants.gov.
CMS plans to award each of the 33 states at least two grants.
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