Healthcare grant landed
Mountain Projects, Inc. is one of four agencies in North Carolina that received a federal grant to help people understand the new health care insurance marketplace set to launch in October.
The organization will receive $359,750 to provide health care navigator services in Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee counties.
Patsy Dowling, the agency’s executive director, said the funds will be used to hire five individuals, four full-time and one part-time, who will help those who currently have no health insurance understand the choices offered under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“For people who have not had health care in many years, there’s a lot to understand — copays, maximum out-of-pocket payments, networks. So the navigators will be helping people to understand the system and their options.”
Mountain Projects will work with other agencies in the region to get the information out to those who need it by setting up numerous workshops and meetings.
The navigators will be trained on all aspects of the new health care insurance programs so they can help those who want to sign up for health insurance under the exchanges being set up by under the act.
One of the requirements of the health care act passed in 2010 was for all individuals to be covered by health insurance, whether it was the federal Medicare/Medicaid programs, a private policy or an employee-sponsored program.
For those who could not find affordable coverage, insurance exchanges were to be set up where consumers could compare policies and the costs in their area to find the best deal. The act anticipated states would oversee the exchanges within their boundaries, but North Carolina opted to not participate, so residents will be served by one of the federal exchanges.
Under the original provisions, enrollment is scheduled to begin in October 2013 with the insurance coverage to start in January 2014.
The act was challenged and survived a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and has been the subject of 40 attempts in Congress to overturn it. The latest movement is to withhold funding for implementation efforts in a temporary funding bill that’s needed before Oct. 1 to keep government operations running.
Dowling said that despite individual feelings about the health care act, if federal money is available, she wants to ensure people in Western North Carolina have a chance to get it.
“If I’m going to pay for it, I want my fair share,” she said. “I want as many people as possible in our region to understand the marketplace for insurance that will be set up.”
Dowling said the grant is for a one-year period that could be extended depending on the need. She expects training to start in September so the navigators will be able to help with enrollment in October.
The navigator efforts will be targeted to people who currently have no health insurance. Those with existing policies can either keep the coverage they have or check prices and coverage available through the exchanges.
“We’ve seen a lot of situations over the last few years where people were doing fine, got sick and lost their insurance,” she said. “That put them in a tailspin. This is a great opportunity to make sure we get the word out to as many people as we can, so I’m excited about that.”
Dowling said the grant will offer a great opportunity for individuals Western North Carolina to better understand what’s happening with the healthcare reform efforts, whether they are employers or employees.
Dowling credits the organization’s grant writer, Jane Harrison, with helping make the opportunity available. She doesn’t yet know about the timing details, but said the program will be implemented soon.
“They are ramping this up pretty quickly, so we will be getting people hired to go to the training,” she said. “This is moving forward. We can get on the train or not. It’s like stimulus dollars, I felt like we needed our fair share.”