The United Way of Metropolitan Tarrant County has been awarded nearly $6 million to help Texans navigate the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant of $5,889,171 was the nation’s largest navigator grant. Texas overall, which originally was supposed to receive about $8.2 million, was awarded $10.9 million—representing the largest amount given to any state. The United Way chapter, one of eight Texas organizations receiving grants, garnered more than half of the state’s grant money. It told HHS it planned to work with 16 organizations statewide to promote enrollment in the insurance marketplaces.
A total of 105 groups across the country received HHS grants to help explain coverage options where the federal government is running all or part of the newly created exchanges. Those receiving grants included community organizations, healthcare providers and universities.
“Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the Marketplace,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “A network of volunteers on the ground in every state—healthcare providers, business leaders, faith leaders, community groups, advocates and local elected officials—can help spread the word and encourage their neighbors to get enrolled.”
Don Smith, United Way vice president of community development, said the consortium of 17 organizations is called Consumer Health Insurance Marketplace Enrollment Services, or CHIMES. Smith said Tarrant County United Way was invited to be the lead applicant because of its experience in complex-project management. CHIMES includes United Way of Central Texas, 10 councils of government, the city of Houston and four community-based organizations. The group includes the Community Council of Greater Dallas, which is expected to serve several Dallas-Fort Worth counties.
About half of the more than 4.8 million uninsured Texans are expected to be eligible for the health insurance exchanges. Smith said CHIMES originally asked for $6.8 million, and had proposed to hire 75 full-time navigators. That number may be altered because the request was not fully funded. Smith said CHIMES plans to have face-to-face conversations with 62,000 exchange-eligible consumers and reach more than a half million more through public meetings.
Smith said the consortium plans to have the navigators trained by Oct. 1 when enrollment begins.
“We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, but we’re optimistic we’ll be ready,” Smith said.
Martha Blaine, Community Council of Greater Dallas executive director, said her organization already has 10 counselors who help people enroll in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and will be cross-trained as navigators. She estimated another 10 would be hired, half of whom will be bilingual. The organization will be working in Dallas and 17 other metropolitan-area counties, including Collin and Denton.
“We are really excited by the opportunity to help the uninsured get enrolled. Most uninsured people eligible for the exchanges are either self-employed or can’t get it at work. They don’t know a lot about insurance. If you get insurance at work, you trust your employer to figure it out for you. If you can’t rely on an employer, it’s on you. We will be there to help.”
Steve Jacob is editor at large of D Healthcare Daily and author of Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at email@example.com.