Exchange Considers Community Grants for Outreach

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Stakeholders and board members mapped out marketing strategies focusing on community outreach for California's new Health Benefit Exchange at a board meeting this week in Sacramento.

Board members realize new rules and opportunities coming into play in 2014 as part of national health reform may be confusing for many Californians and they hope to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible.

The exchange's staff is planning ways to use community-based grants to educate Californians on how and where to sign up for health care. The exchange is paying particular attention to communicating with populations it considers hard to reach, including rural and lower income Californians, according to Juli Baker, chief technology officer for the exchange.

Baker outlined staff plans to create a grant application system to give money to outreach groups, making them responsible for educating the public.

Robert Ross, a member of the board, suggested using volunteer based organizations, such as United Way out of a concern for how long it would take to process applications for grants. Ross and fellow board member Kim Belshé noted that community groups had "localized knowledge" to gain access to populations that would otherwise be unreachable. Enlisting not-for-profit organizations such as United Way would allow these groups to re-grant funds for education and outreach programs, board members said.  

Stakeholders representing a variety of hard-to-reach groups weighed in on the board's marketing plans. Groups representing homeless and transient populations, young adults who will soon lose coverage under their parent's insurance, mixed immigration status families and lesbian, gay or transgender families generally saw a need for more grant money to make the education program successful and retain residents within the new insurance system.

Board members agreed, but noted that most grants will be one-time offerings, not a long-term funding stream.

"Even if we commit to a robust level (of funding) that does not necessarily guarantee it will continue," said Ross.

The board will continue to discuss grant funding for groups it considers to have the "greatest opportunity" to reach residents according to Baker's report. Funding comes in part from a federal grant for education and outreach under the Affordable Care Act.

john krikorian
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