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N.J. gets $2M in grants for health care navigators

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The federal government today awarded more than $2 million in grant money to fund the outreach efforts of health care “navigators” in New Jersey.

The navigators are social service agencies that will help enroll New Jerseyans in subsidized health insurance plans and Medicaid starting Oct. 1. That's when the online health insurance exchange — being created by Washington under the Affordable Care Act — will go live, allowing consumers to shop for coverage that will be a requirement for most on Jan. 1.

Experts have said hundreds of thousands of New Jersey's nearly 1 million uninsured residents could get coverage through the ACA, but it will be tough getting the word out in poor communities or places where English is not widely spoken. That's where navigators come in.

New Jersey originally had been slated to get about $1.5 million in navigator grants. Dena Mottola Jaborska, of New Jersey Citizen Action, said she was "very glad to see the amount awarded to New Jersey increased," but she remains concerned about parts of the state without coverage.

"These are great groups to conduct the enrollment assistance work, but we need more of them," she said.

Ray Castro, of the New Jersey Policy Perspective, said the navigator grants will help, but "the amount of federal money New Jersey is receiving only represents about 10 percent of how much we think is needed to ensure the most New Jerseyans possible benefit from health care reform. Without additional resources, many of the 900,000 uninsured New Jerseyans who are eligible for help in the marketplace may not even know about this opportunity."

Joel Cantor, director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University, said the navigator grant recipients are an "interesting group of what appears to be really in the trenches organizations." He said it is "nice to see that the total dollar amount is higher than the anticipated $1.5 million. This bodes well for efforts to help hard-to-reach populations enroll."

Following are the navigator grant winners:

– The Center For Family Services Inc.: $677,797 to enroll people in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

– The Urban League of Hudson County: $565,000 for a health insurance enrollment program in partnership with the urban leagues of Bergen, Morris and Union.

– Public Health Solutions of New York City: $400,583 to partner with New Jersey community organizations in Hudson and Essex counties.

– Wendy Sykes/Orange ACA Navigator Project: $239,810 to integrate several existing community-based systems to help enroll uninsured individuals and small businesses.

– FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Inc.: $137,217 to connect uninsured and underinsured individuals with information about their health insurance.

The New Jersey funding is among $67 million in navigator grant awards nationwide announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. HHS has previously awarded New Jersey's federally funded health centers $3.4 million to hire staff to help enroll the uninsured in health plans.

"Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace," Sebelius said in a statement. "A network of volunteers on the ground in every state … can help spread the word and encourage their neighbors to get enrolled."

Reporter Beth Fitzgerald is @BethFitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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