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Originally published Aug. 15, 2013 at 11:10 p.m., updated Aug. 15, 2013 at 6:04 p.m.
Three organizations received federal grants today to help Kansas consumers understand the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and make use of the health insurance marketplace.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a total of $67 million “navigator” grants to 105 organizations across the country.
Three Kansas organizations received grants totaling nearly $900,000.
“Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the Marketplace,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The grants went to 105 entities in the 34 states in which the federal government will run the health insurance marketplace because the states have chosen not to run it themselves.
According to federal estimates, there are 326,885 currently uninsured Kansans who could receive health coverage through the new insurance marketplace. Many are expected to qualify for federal tax credits to help them purchase private coverage in the new online marketplace, or exchange, which is schedule to launch on Oct. 1.
“This is a huge task,” said KAMU Executive Director Cathy Harding, who will be administering the largest of the three Kansas grants on behalf of a consortium that includes the Kansas Hospital Association, the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, the Kansas Area Agencies on Aging Association, and the Kansas Insurance Department.
The project director for the consortium will work out of the KAMU office in Topeka, Harding said. But she said three coordinators will be dispatched to areas of the state with the largest numbers of uninsured – Wichita and the southeast and southwest corners of the state.
Harding said she expected to offer the director position to an applicant as early as Friday.
“Because there’s so much to do and so little time to get it all done, we sort of had to put ourselves in a position of assuming we would get the grant so that if we did, we’d be ready to go,” she said. “So we’ve already advertised for the positions, interviewed applicants, and narrowed the field.”
The project director, she said, will hire the coordinators.
Harding said the four workers’ efforts will be complemented by consortium members’ having navigators available on their staffs as well.
“There will be trained navigators in every part of the state, ready to help people navigate the marketplace,” Harding said, noting that there will be at least one in every county.
The announcement Thursday meant that at least three other Kansas organizations — Mid America Regional Council, Black Chamber of Commerce of Kansas City, and a coalition of disability groups led by Families Together Inc. — were unsuccessful in their grant applications.
“We’d like to have gotten one of grants, but it’s OK that we didn’t,” said Scott Lakin, head of MARC’s Regional Health Care Initiative. “KAMU will do a great job, and our plan all along has been to work with whoever got the grant. We’re very collaborative.”
Harding said she’ll be reaching out to groups outside the KAMU-led consortium.
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “This is going to take everybody.”
Advanced Patient Advocacy is a Virginia-based company that specializes in helping hospitals and medical clinics determine whether their underinsured and uninsured patients are eligible for Medicaid and helping enroll them in the program.
In Kansas, the company has workers stationed in three HCA Healthcare hospitals: Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center, both in Overland Park, and Labette County Medical Center in Parsons.
“Right now, most of our work is with patients who are already in the hospital or they’re seeing a physician who’s affiliated with the hospital,” said Wendy Bennett, president of Advanced Patient Advocacy.
“We will continue to do that,” Bennett said. “But with this grant, we’ll be hiring some additional staff and developing some technologies that will allow us expand our services beyond the ‘four walls’ of a hospital or a physician’s office and into the community at-large.”
Advanced Patient Advocacy also was awarded navigator grants for Florida ($413,152), Virginia ($483,433), and West Virginia ($276,617). The company has operations in 21 states.
Ascension Health is the nation's largest Catholic, nonprofit health system. Its Kansas holdings include the Via Christi Health hospitals in Wichita and Pittsburg, Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan and Wamego Health Center in Wamego.
According to Keisha Humphries, oncology service line administrator at the Via Christi Cancer Center in Wichita, Ascension Health’s grant will be used to hire and train two workers who will help cancer patients and survivors obtain health insurance.
“This is a very vulnerable population,” Humphries said. “A lot of them have had insurance, lost it, and now they can’t afford it.”
Initially, the workers’ outreach efforts, she said, will be limited to Sedgwick, Butler, Cowley, and Sumner counties.
“We’re talking about thousands of uninsured patients, literally, in a four-county area,” Humphries said.
The initiative, she said, should be up and running next month.
Earlier this year, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicated that grants to 12 states, including Kansas, would be capped at $600,000. But the grants awarded Thursday were for almost $900,000.
“In several states, there were additional funds left over because either all applications were funded in the state, or because the amount of funds leftover was not large enough to provide a meaningful grant award to the next eligible applicant in that state,” Julie Brookhart, a CMS spokesperson, wrote in an email to KHI News Service.
The availability of the additional funds, she said, led to some states receiving more than initially projected.
“Also, an additional $13 million recently became available for navigator grant awards in states with federally-facilitated and state-partnership marketplaces, bringing the total from $54 million to $67 million,” she said.
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