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Implementing health care reform discussed

Funds could exceed $200 million dollars

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Im­­por­tant grants for federal health centers to help with health insurance enrollment through the Affordable Care Act will be revealed this month, along with ways to sign up, a federal official said Friday.

Grants to other community groups needed to aid enrollment won’t be revealed, however, until mid-August, when training will start less than two months before open enrollment begins.

Based on the rollout of previous big health programs, such as Medicare Part D, that community aid will be critical, one expert said.

April Washington, a public and intergovernmental affairs specialist for the U.S. De­­partment of Health and Hu­man Services, talked about progress on the health overhaul to members of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Those eligible to enroll will shop through state Health Insurance Market­places. A Web site, healthcare.gov, and a phone app are expected to debut June 23, Washington said.

Though they are called state marketplaces, 27 states – including Georgia and South Caro­lina – decided not to form their own. Theirs will be run by the federal government.

An estimated 25 million people will have access to enrollment through the Web site and app, and as many as 20 million could qualify for a subsidy to purchase insurance, Washington said.

Subsidies will be available for those at up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $94,200 for a family of four.

The enrollment goal for the eight-state South­east region is 12 million, she said. Open enrollment in those plans, which will not be revealed until August, will begin Oct. 1 and take effect Jan. 1.

Groups will be able to get grants to be “navigators” to help people through the enrollment process, Wash­ington said. This month, about $150 million in grants will be awarded to community health centers to provide navigators, she said. They will go through 30 hours of training beginning in July.

An additional $54 million in navigator grants will be awarded in mid-August, Wash­­ing­ton said. If some states require additional training, as it appears Georgia will, they will have to meet that as well, she said.

That community-based support will be critical, Wash­ing­ton said.

“We’re counting on the grass roots to help us,” she said.

She acknowledged that enacting such “watershed legislation” will not be easy.

“We will have some growing pains,” Washington said.

That happened when Medi­care Part D was launched in 2006, said Dr. Keith Mueller, the director of the Rural Policy Re­search Institute at the Uni­versity of Iowa, who studied the aftermath of the implementation. Amid computer and help line problems, pharmacists stepped in for their customers to make it work.

“In that particular case, it was the pharmacists that were the front line,” he said. “Now it is going to be community health centers, primary care clinics, hospital emergency rooms, those are going to be the front lines now.”


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