August 16, 2013 — HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday announced that 105 groups nationwide will receive federal grants totaling $67 million under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) to serve as "navigators" for the health insurance marketplaces, the New York Times reports.
The navigators will help uninsured individuals understand their coverage options under the ACA and enroll in health plans. The amounts awarded to each organization range from under $21,000 to millions of dollars, with recipients that include universities, health clinics, hospital systems, religious organizations and health advocacy groups.
The Obama administration initially planned to distribute $54 million in grants to the nearly three dozen states with exchanges that will be operated solely by or in partnership with the federal government.
However, an additional $13 million was redirected from the ACA's Prevention and Public Health Fund to boost the navigator program, according to HHS official Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.
According to the Times, Sebelius previously noted that the administration would be forced to tap the fund -- which was established to support wellness and disease-prevention programs -- after Congress refused to allocate funding for ACA outreach and education initiatives (Goodnough, New York Times, 8/15).
Details of Navigator Grant Awards
On Thursday, federal officials said the navigator grants were awarded to groups based on the number of uninsured residents in their states. For example, groups in Florida and Texas -- which have two of the largest uninsured populations in the country -- received grants totaling $7.8 million and $11 million, respectively (Sun, Washington Post, 8/15).
In her announcement during a visit to Florida to promote the ACA, Sebelius said HHS selected groups that already have networks and connections in place that will enable them to reach many individuals (Kennedy, USA Today, 8/15). Sebelius said, "Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace." She added, "A network of volunteers on the ground in every state -- health care providers, business leaders, faith leaders, community groups, advocates and local elected officials -- can help spread the word and encourage their neighbors to get enrolled" (New York Times, 8/15).
Grants to Planned Parenthood Affiliates
Three Planned Parenthood affiliates received navigator grants totaling $655,000, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/15).
Planned Parenthood's health centers provide services to about three million patients annually, about half of whom are uninsured. The organization has been training staff members to tell patients about their new coverage options under the ACA.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, based in Iowa, will receive $214,427; Intermountain Planned Parenthood of Montana will receive $295,604; and New Hampshire-based Planned Parenthood of Northern New England will receive $145,161 (Begley, Reuters, 8/15).
The District of Columbia, which is operating its own marketplace, also announced that it awarded a $350,000 grant to Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/15).
Some conservatives criticized HHS for awarding grants to an organization that provides abortions.
However, Eric Ferrero, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "More than 90 percent of what our health centers do is provide basic, preventive care, including cancer screenings and annual well-woman exams." He said that the navigator grants will allow local affiliates to help women enroll in health plans that cover preventive care and maternity care, and "have nothing to do with abortion and won't be used for abortion services" (Reuters, 8/15).
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) -- a leading opponent of abortion rights in the House -- described the awards as "the federal funding of abortion providers" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/15).
Black and several other Republicans recently asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate how federal funds are used by abortion providers. Black said she hoped the GAO study would "mobilize" efforts to block funding to abortion providers (Cox, "Floor Action Blog," The Hill, 8/15).