Groups get $3.3M to hire health insurance navigators in Georgia

Two nonprofits will receive roughly $3.3 million in grants to pay for health insurance navigators who will help Georgia consumers understand coverage options available through the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance marketplace, federal health officials announced Monday.

Macon-based nonprofit Community Health Works, which formed an alliance of six regional cancer coalitions and other agencies, will receive more than $1.1 million to operate a navigator program. It will serve to replace the University of Georgia’s program, which was scuttled by state lawmakers in the spring. UGA’s program helped more than 33,000 Georgians choose marketplace coverage.

In addition, New York City-based nonprofit Seedco received a nearly $2.2 million grant, its second in a row, to help operate a program in Georgia of about 20 navigators.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $60 million in grants for navigation programs to 34 states with marketplaces that are partially or fully run by the federal government. Navigation programs are mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The navigators play a critical role in the health care law’s effort to provide millions of Americans with affordable insurance. Their job is to guide consumers through the federal online marketplace at HealthCare.gov. The marketplace’s second open enrollment begins Nov. 15.

One concern for Georgia health care advocates is how the two nonprofits will meet the need of consumers in rural areas. UGA’s already-established network of extension programs throughout the state allowed its navigators to easily reach Georgians in outlying areas.

But Fred Ammons, CEO of Community Health Works, offered some reassurance, saying, “The goal is to work with the underserved outside metro Atlanta.”

The Community Health Works alliance already has partnerships in nearby rural counties through six cancer coalitions in Macon, Rome, Savannah, Columbus, Albany and Athens.

The biggest challenge will be financial, Ammons said. Because his group will receive about $600,000 less than UGA did, the group must review the trimmed allocation.

“It’s sad,” he said. “We know there’s a huge, unmet need.”

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This story was done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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