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Monday, July 15, 2013

HHS Awards $150 Million to Health Centers for Providing Enrollment Assistance

Kate Blocher

Staff Writer

Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $150 million in grants to 1,159 health centers across the nation to go toward building out their outreach and enrollment programs. These funds are expected to allow the health centers to hire an additional 2,900 outreach and enrollment workers who will be available to help millions of Americans enroll in new health coverage options starting October 1, 2013.

Health centers have long played a crucial role in providing affordable, quality health care to the communities they serve. But they play an even more important role in making care accessible to vulnerable populations. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, health centers provide health care services to 22.3 million people nationwide, 72 percent of whom have family incomes at or below the federal poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four). Health center patients tend to be members of racial and ethnic minority groups. In addition, 36 percent of patients are uninsured, and 40 percent rely on Medicaid.  For many of these patients, whether they are insured or not, health centers are the only places they can get care because of where they live, who they are, the language they speak, or their complex health care needs.

Because of the populations they serve, health centers will play a vital role both in making their communities aware of the new health coverage options and ensuring people get enrolled. Since health center workers have established relationships with their patients, they are seen as trusted messengers when it comes to health care information, making them a natural fit for providing outreach and enrollment assistance. In fact, research suggests that people view health centers as the most likely setting to receive enrollment help.

In addition to helping their patients get enrolled in health coverage, health centers will play a role in making sure that patients maintain coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, states are required to use a simple, streamlined application process for Medicaid, CHIP, and coverage through health insurance marketplaces. States will also need to use a simple, streamlined renewal process for all of these programs. One of the biggest barriers to enrolling in and maintaining health coverage has been the complexity of doing so, but, with the new streamlined processes, health centers will be able to easily ensure that their patients both get and keep coverage. This is especially important for lower-income patients who experience more frequent fluctuations in income, which can cause changes in eligibility.

Health centers have long played an essential part in providing high-quality and affordable health care to millions of Americans, most of whom would have no other source of health care without them. The grant money awarded by HHS will go a long way in ensuring that the many Americans who will be eligible for new health coverage options in October will sign up.

Click here for a list of the health centers that received outreach and enrollment assistance grants.