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Seeking more money to better navigate N.J.'s uninsured population

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Health care providers are among the organizations gearing up to apply for the $1.5 million in grants the federal government will award this summer to “navigators” who will help enroll the uninsured in subsidized health insurance and in Medicaid in 2014, when the major provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act kick in.

Insiders expect several hundred thousand of New Jersey's more than 1 million uninsured will be eligible for either free coverage under the state's expanded Medicaid program, or for government subsidies that will significantly lower the cost of buying a policy from a health insurance company on the online exchange.

While New Jersey was considering whether or not to launch its own exchange, ultimately ceding the responsibility to Washington, the state Department of Banking and Insurance received a $7.6 million planning grant from the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The vast majority of the grant remains unspent, according to DOBI spokesman Marshall McKnight; to date, he said, only $3,400 was spent to attend a mandatory HHS information session.

Advocates for the insured have argued $1.5 million isn't nearly enough to create an effective navigator outreach to the uninsured in New Jersey. Asked if the balance of the $7.6 million federal grant might be used for navigators, McKnight of DOBI declined to comment. "We are in talks with CMS about how that money might be spent," he said.

Kathy Grant Davis is president of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, which is planning to seek navigator funding; its members are the federally qualified health centers that care for low and moderate income Jerseyans at 110 locations statewide. Davis said the centers have been enrolling patients in Medicaid and other health programs for years, and have the experience to be navigators, but $1.5 million is insufficient.

"I would like it used in any way that will help us get people enrolled," Davis said of the $7.6 million federal grant. There is a need, she said for "people to get more 'public-friendly' information," and "it is excellent to hear that DOBI is negotiating with CMS. I hope it works out for everybody."

Dena Mottola Jaborska, of New Jersey Citizen Action, said the group is putting together a diverse coalition to seek navigator funding. She said it's too soon to say who will join in the Citizen Action application; the application deadline is June 7, and the one-year grant starts Aug. 15.

Jaborska said several chambers of commerce have reached out to Citizen Action, and are interested in becoming navigators to help small businesses sign up for coverage through the exchange.

Kerry McKean Kelly, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said NJHA's Health Research and Educational Trust is planning to apply for a navigator grant, and is in the process of assembling a coalition of hospitals and possibly other types of providers and community-based groups.

"Hospitals very often are the entry point for uninsured individuals to access the health care system, and in past programs, NJHA has worked with hospitals in helping build awareness and enrollment in NJ FamilyCare," Kelly said. "In addition, both NJHA and our member hospitals have histories of collaborating with community partners on community health issues, so the potential is there for that kind of collaboration, as well."

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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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