$9 Million Grant for Consumer Outreach

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

The California Endowment last week awarded a $9.2 million, three-year grant to a group of legal aid organizations to help expand the effort to educate lower-income Californians about choices under the Affordable Care Act, including coverage in the state's new health benefit exchange and the expanded version of Medi-Cal, both due to start in January.

Health Consumer Alliance will receive the grant announced Thursday. It's a consortium of 11 legal aid organizations, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, Bay Area Legal Aid and the Fresno-based Central California Legal Services. 

The $9.2 million grant follows an additional $3.4 million awarded to HCA by Covered California, the state's new exchange, in June.

Robert Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment and a board member of Covered California, said the grant was an important step in helping a hard-to-reach population, generally one with lower incomes and speaking different languages.

"Successful implementation of Obamacare will depend on getting Californians enrolled," Ross said in a written statement. "Our commitment, along with Covered California's, will help them access and understand their options through community-based assistance."

In June, when Covered California first contracted with HCA, the exchange's executive director, Peter Lee, said it was a vital component of its outreach effort, and that HCA could inform both sides of the implementation.

"Independent consumer assistance groups like the Health Consumer Alliance not only help consumers, but also identify systemic issues, such as problems with eligibility determinations, grievances and appeals," Lee said, "as well as benefits and coverage we can use to improve our services to all consumers."

An estimated 5.3 million Californians will be eligible to purchase health insurance through the exchange starting in 2014 and about half of them will be eligible for insurance premium assistance to help them pay for it, according to HCA and exchange officials. Another one million Californians are estimated to be newly eligible for Medi-Cal under the expansion, also starting in 2014.

HCA also helped form the California Consumer Assistance Program in 2012, in partnership with the state's Department of Managed Health Care, supported by a federal ACA grant. That program provides one-on-one assistance to people trying to navigate the new health care system.


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