Covered California exchange officials on Tuesday awarded $37 million in outreach grants to 48 community-based organizations. Those groups all have a wide reach, and represent a much bigger bloc of community organizations, according to Peter Lee, executive director of the California Health Benefit Exchange, now known as Covered California.
"We are talking about 250 organizations within these 48 groups," Lee said. "We encourage them to work together so what you're seeing here is partnership."
Lee said applicants were encouraged to aim high, because the exchange wants to reach as many people as possible and so much of the target market -- a multi-cultural, low-income and multilingual population -- is difficult to reach.
When organizations work together to cover a big pool of that target audience organization and coordination doesn't have to be done by the exchange, Lee said.
"Rather than Covered California going out to get everybody to cooperate, people came together to make this work," Lee said. "We think it's a better strategy to give a lot of money to groups, working on the ground, rather than spend it on administration."
At the Tuesday presentation of outreach grants, exchange board member Robert Ross said the diverse faces of California were fully represented.
"The stars of the show here are the recipients of these grant funds," Ross said. And those grantees, in a way, represent the success of the exchange, he said.
"This moment we find ourselves in ... we are now witnessing the transition of a health law that was primarily owned by Washington DC, owned by the president, by Congress, for a short time owned by the Supreme Court, but this is now our program," Ross said. "This program now belongs to the state of California and it belongs to Californians."
Lee said signing people up to the exchange involves two main approaches -- "high-tech and high-touch." The tech part of enrollment is the online effort, and the high-touch part of enrollment includes this outreach effort, he said. Many Californians will need help signing up and also will need to be educated about the benefits of the exchange, Lee said.
"These folks are going to be on the ground," Lee said. "Come summertime, you're going to see us in a big way -- on TV, on the radio, in newspapers, on billboards. But it starts with people on the ground."
Lee said the exchange received about 200 applications for outreach grants, before narrowing down the awards to 48 recipients. The exchange still has another $6 million in outreach grants it can award, but Lee said it's important first to see what works before committing the rest of the outreach money.