Lawrence clinic receives grant to help enroll residents in Affordable Care Act

The local effort to enroll uninsured Americans in the Affordable Care Act’s new health care exchanges got a boost Tuesday when Lawrence’s Heartland Community Health Center was awarded a federal grant to provide outreach for the new law.

The clinic plans to use the $66,040 in funding to hire an outreach/enrollment worker and train some of its AmeriCorps members on Affordable Care Act outreach and education. They will be available to help not only Heartland’s patients but anyone in the Lawrence area who needs assistance in understanding the new health care act.

“We want the whole community to know that we’re here to help them find an affordable health insurance option,” said Ali Edwards, development director for Heartland Community Health Center. “These workers will be extensively trained in the application process and will be very knowledgable about each plan.”

The grant was part of $150 million in federal assistance announced Tuesday by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that will help nearly 1,200 community health centers across the nation — including 16 in Kansas operating 49 sites — sign people up for the Affordable Care Act’s online exchanges. Uninsured Americans who make between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for tax credits toward the purchase of premiums on the new insurance marketplaces, which begin open enrollment Oct. 1.

The exchanges are part of the law’s goal to provide universal health care coverage to Americans, though that objective has been stymied for the time being after several states, including Kansas, refused to expand Medicaid to cover people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Approximately 16,000 Douglas County residents do not have health insurance.

Heartland expects to sign up at least 650 people during the exchange’s open-enrollment period, which concludes at the end of March. During that time, insurers are required to admit customers regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. The local outreach workers won’t be directing enrollees toward any specific health plan, Edwards said, simply the one that best fits their individual needs.

The Lawrence clinic hopes to have the new employee on board by the end of the month. The person will begin providing outreach immediately because of the immense dearth of public knowledge about the new law.

“According to Kaiser, 87 percent of people who don’t have health insurance don’t know anything about the health insurance exchanges,” said Edwards. “There is going to be a huge need for education.”

Heartland’s service area also includes Jefferson, Franklin, Osage and Leavenworth counties, none of which have a federally qualified health center, where these outreach workers will be based.

Heartland Community Health Center is located at 1 Riverfront Plaza, No. 100, and can be reached at (785) 841-7297.