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Health centers get $3.3M to help enroll uninsured

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New Jersey's 20 federally funded health centers, which treat thousands of low-income patients without health coverage, can now apply for $3.3 million in new federal funds to hire and train staff to enroll the uninsured in government-subsidized health insurance and Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The 20 centers and their satellite offices serve more than 467,000 patients and provide health care to more than 23 percent of the state's low income uninsured, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) announcing the program. He said the centers “attend to the unique health needs of hard-to-reach populations and have a significant impact in improving health in our communities.”

The $3.3 million for the health centers is in addition to the $1.5 million in grants the federal government has allocated to New Jersey for “navigators.” Community groups and health care organizations are applying for those funds to become navigators who help the uninsured get covered. While several hundred thousands New Jerseyans are expected to join Medicaid or get subsidized health insurance effective Jan. 1, 2014, under the ACA, it's expected to very difficult to get the word out to the uninsured and bring them into the system.

Kathy Grant Davis, president of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, whose members are the 20 health centers, said the $3.3 million in funding “is great, because it allows us to contact those individuals that we currently see who are uninsured, and helps us identify people in the surrounding communities who need information.” Health insurers will begin Oct. 1 to enroll individuals in federally subsidized health plans that will be sold on the new exchange, or marketplace, the federal government is creating for New Jersey.

Davis said about 43 percent of health center patients are uninsured, and many are below 200 percent of the federal poverty line — $47,100 for a family of four.

With the new funding “every health center will gain at least one new outreach worker, and some of them will be able to hire two or three,” Davis said. “It gives us a head start, and that is all that we asked.” She said several health centers met with federal officials “to basically say that we serve a lot of uninsured people — and I guess they heard us.”

Jeff Brown, chief of staff of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said it makes sense to direct enrollment dollars to the health centers, which “are the places that serve the uninsured individuals currently. They have data on where (the uninsured) live, they have experience doing outreach to them, and they have experience helping individuals who lack coverage navigate a complex and fragmented health system.”

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