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Government Awards $67 Million in Grants to Help Consumers Navigate Health Law

Online health insurance ‘marketplaces’ open October 1 (August 15)

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups, and local food banks were among organizations awarded $67 million in federal grants on August 15 to help people sign up for coverage in new online health insurance marketplaces that open for enrollment on October 1.

Planned Parenthood, the United Way, and the National Urban League are some of the best-known organizations among the 105 awarded “navigator” grants in 34 states that will rely on the federal government to operate all or part of their marketplaces. States setting up their own marketplaces are getting substantially more money in a separate funding pool created by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The marketplaces will help small groups and individuals who don’t receive insurance from an employer.

The amount is more than had been expected for these states and comes on top of the $150 million the government granted in July to nearly 1,200 community health centers nationwide to hire navigators.

Like some other components of the PPACA, the navigator grants are not without controversy. Critics see navigators as potential competitors to insurance brokers, and say they should be subject to more rigorous screening before they can work with consumers.

Navigators will be trained to provide unbiased information to consumers about health insurance, the marketplace, and public programs, including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. They will receive 20 hours of online training and have to pass a test before they can start working.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, navigators will be required to adhere to strict security and privacy standards, including how to safeguard a consumer’s personal information. All types of enrollment assisters — including navigators — are subject to federal criminal penalties for violations of privacy or fraud statutes, in addition to any relevant state penalties.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation; August 15, 2013.

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