$4.5 million to prep for health care reform

By Chris Thomas | Aug 01, 2013

Washington's community health centers have been enlisted to help get people signed up for health insurance - something required of most Americans by next year under the Affordable Care Act.

More than $4.5 million in federal funds are coming to Washington to hire and train outreach workers and boost technology.

Mary Looker, CEO of the Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers, says everyone without health coverage will start at the same point - and the outreach workers have to be ready to discuss the options, from private coverage to Medicaid, with some people who've never purchased health insurance before.

"You know, it's great that we're putting them all into one," she said. "And I think many states are doing that 'one-stop shop' portal, to be able to put all the important information in one place.

“But it is two very different things, as you start to educate people about insurance."

Washington has 26 community health centers with 243 locations.

Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, says community health centers have been connecting people to coverage for years, so allowing them to do more education and outreach made sense.

"Over and over again, health centers have seen firsthand the health challenges faced by families without health insurance," she said. "We really wanted to capitalize on their long-standing experience in enrolling medically underserved populations."

Some U.S. House members are still trying to pass legislation to cancel federal health care reforms, taking issue with costs and the requirement that most people purchase coverage.

More than 800,000 people were seen at health centers in Washington last year, most of them from lower-income families, and about 35 percent were uninsured.

So, while Looker said the health centers are excited about getting more people covered, they're extremely busy.

"This is a tremendous increase in work that's going to have to happen," she said. "So, these dollars are critical to being staffed up enough to be able to handle this enrollment process."

Federal estimates are that the funding is creating 90 new jobs and will help more than 140,000 people sign up for health coverage in the state.

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