KHI News Service

Safety-net clinics eligible for $1.7 million in federal marketplace grants

To be used to help enroll people in plans through the new health insurance exchange

By Dave Ranney | May 09, 2013

Federal official today announced that 16 safety-net clinics in Kansas are eligible for more than $1.7 million in grants to help enroll the state’s uninsured and underinsured residents in affordable health insurance plans.

“This is a wonderful development,” said Sally Tesluk, executive director of the Prairie Star Health Center in Hutchison, one of the safety-net clinics. “About 47 percent of our patients are uninsured, so the need is huge. Having insurance will help our patients access preventive care, which is ultimately much less expensive for everyone than treating chronic problems that result in repeated hospitalizations.”

The insurance plans will be available through the federally administered health insurance marketplace, which is scheduled to be up and running on Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014.

The marketplace, sometimes referred to as an "exchange," is a key component of the Affordable Care Act, which requires that most Americans who can afford health insurance have it by Jan. 1 or pay a penalty.

Federal subsidies in the form of tax credits are to be available for those who cannot afford premiums on their own and in some states Medicaid eligibility will be expanded to let more people into that program. However, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has said he won't or can't expand Medicaid without approval from the Legislature, and lawmakers have shown no interest in doing so.

The 16 eligible safety-net clinics “have extensive experience providing eligibility assistance to patients, are providing care to 156,576 individuals in Kansas communities, and are well-positioned to support enrollment efforts,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today in a prepared statement announcing the grants. “Investing in health centers for outreach and enrollment assistance provides one more way the Obama administration is helping consumers understand their options and enroll in affordable coverage."

The 16 clinics are among the largest of the 38 safety-net clinics in Kansas. Each is designated a Federally Qualified Health Center.

Photo by Sean Steffen, Pittsburg Morning Sun.

Krista Postai — right, chief executive of the Community Health Clinic of Southeast Kansas — talks with University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in 2009.

View larger photo

Krista Postai, who runs the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, said the grant could be a "game changer" for the Pittsburg clinic and its satellite facilities.

"It will allow us to put an outreach worker in every community we serve,” she said. “These will be full-time people focused on connecting people to resources. This tells me we're serious about making this (health reform) work. In two years, southeast Kansas should look different."

Postai said about half the clinic’s patients currently were uninsured.

Each of the 16 clinics will be responsible for applying for a portion of the grant dollars. Applications are due to HHS by May 31.

The $1.7 million is Kansas’ share of approximately $150 million being set aside for enrollment efforts at federally qualified health centers nationwide. The centers are expected to use the grants to hire new staff, train existing staff on the workings of the marketplace, and to hold outreach events aimed at helping consumers understand their coverage options, determine their eligibility, and enroll in a health insurance plan.

Last month, HHS announced that Kansas was separately eligible for $600,000 in grants to help consumers “navigate” the marketplace.

A consortium of state associations has notified HHS it intends to apply for one of the two navigation grants reserved for Kansas.

“It’s been coming together really well,” said consortium leader Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved (KAMU). “We’re meeting weekly. The application is due June 7.”

The consortium members are:

  • KAMU
  • Kansas Insurance Department
  • Kansas Hospital Association
  • Kansas Association of Local Health Departments
  • Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas
  • Kansas Area Agencies on Aging Association

“This is just the core group,” Harding said. “We’re keeping it fairly small so that we can get things done fairly quickly, but the intent certainly is to be partnering with a lot of other local and state organizations to make sure that people know about the marketplace and how to use it.”

In Kansas, between 300,000 and 550,000 consumers are expected to obtain health insurance through the marketplace.

The navigator grants are being administered by HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the clinic marketplace grants by the department’s Health Resources and Services Administration.

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