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Health centers to help uninsured gain access

Maya Rhodan | 5/27/2013, 4:59 p.m.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced plans to provide $150 million to community health ...
HHS Secretary Sebelius addresses the 65th World Health Assembly in the Palais Des Nations, Salle Des Assemblees. Eric Bridiers

WASHINGTON (NNPA ) – Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced plans to provide $150 million to community health centers to assist in getting uninsured Americans prepared for the Oct. 1 opening of the Health Care Marketplace.

The 1,200 Community Health Centers across rural and urban centers in America provide medical services to over 21 million patients a year. These centers serve in many of the neighborhoods that are set to benefit the most from the coming availability of insurance options that will be provided in the new insurance marketplace.

“We’re supporting community health centers as they reach out to those in need,” Sebelius said on a press call May 15, the day of the announcement.

“Many of the Americans we’re trying to reach have spent their whole lives outside of coverage,” Sebelius said. “This will be a huge undertaking, but it’s an undertaking that’s important to the American people.”

The money, which comes from Affordable Care Act funds set aside specifically for community health centers in the 2013 budget, is set to help the centers hire new staff and train staff to properly educate patients about their insurance options.

Sebelius hopes the funds will also help the community health centers reach uninsured people within communities who otherwise would not have known about the insurance marketplace, their new options in terms of coverage.

About 60 percent of the existing community health centers are in communities where racial and ethnic minorities are the majority. Currently, about 21 percent of African Americans are uninsured, along with about 30 percent of Hispanics.

Mary Wakefield, an administrator at the Health Resources and Services Administration, said on the call that community health centers are “really perfect partners in outreach and enrollment efforts.”

“Those of us who are in Obama administration have been working hard to make sure that Americans that aren’t in the health system can get in,” Wakefield said. “We can now double the outreach and education capacity of health centers nationwide.”

Each community health center is eligible to receive about $50,000 in funds, with an extra $5,000 available for additional resources like computers. The funds provided to community health centers are a mere portion of the efforts by the Obama administration, mostly being rolled out this summer, to get information out about the Insurance Marketplace.

The goal is to reach as many uninsured people as possible to ensure the success of Obama’s huge, and often begrudged, overhaul of the health care system.

Community health centers are positioned to reach a number of the uninsured, given their reputation as “trusted community partners” for people on the fringes of the health care system. According to health care officials, about one-seventh of the uninsured population gets treatment from community health centers.

“It’s about making sure every American can access the support they need,” Wakefield said.