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Feds sending N.J. $3.4M to help enroll uninsured in health plans

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A total of $3.4 million in federal funds to help enroll uninsured New Jerseyans in health plans was approved today by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is now building the online “marketplace” where insurance companies will soon sell coverage, as per the Affordable Care Act.

The $3.4 million is going to the 20 federally funded health centers across New Jersey that provide medical care to low-income individuals and families, including Medicaid members and the uninsured. According to HHS, these grants will enable the 20 centers to hire a total of 69 workers to help an estimated 73,000 or more New Jerseyans get covered.

"So many of the uninsured come to our health centers, and we have a vested interest in making sure our patients get coverage," said Kathy Grant Davis, president of the New Jersey Primary Care Association, whose members are the 20 health centers which serve more than 450,000 patients a year at 113 locations across the state.

The centers will help the uninsured sign up for Medicaid, which is being expanded significantly under the ACA, and for commercial health plans that insurance companies will sell on the new marketplace. Depending on their income, individuals and families will be entitled to subsidies to help them afford coverage; the subsidies are on a sliding scale and phase out completely at four times the federal poverty level, or about $94,000 a year for a family of four.

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Joel Cantor, director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, said the health centers will play an important role in getting people covered; estimates are that more than 1 million New Jerseyans lack health coverage. Cantor said the centers "reach large numbers of uninsured people in New Jersey and around the country, so these grants are important for achieving high enrollment rates for those eligible for Medicaid and subsidized private coverage through the marketplace."

Next month, HHS is expected to award $1.5 million in grants to New Jersey community groups that have applied to become navigators, whose mission will be helping cover the uninsured.

Davis said insurance companies that will sell policies on the marketplace are now bringing the health centers into their networks of providers, to help deliver medical care to the newly insured.

The insurers "need a network of (health care) providers," to serve the influx of consumers who will now have health coverage, Davis said. "We are not only worried about the outreach and the enrollment — we are also worried about adequate access. Do we have enough providers?"

Reporter Beth Fitzgerald is @BethFitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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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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