August 15, 2013

Federal grants to help Maine residents navigate health insurance options

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Two federal grants worth a total of $542,000 will pay for services to help Maine residents navigate the coverage options available when enrollment in Maine’s health insurance exchange begins Oct. 1.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that it has awarded $67 million in grants to 105 agencies throughout the country to help people enroll in insurance plans on the new state exchanges created under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Western Maine Community Action received $475,000 to set up eight informational offices throughout the state.

Fishing Partnership Health Plan, a Massachusetts-based organization, received $66,846 to work with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association to help fishermen get insurance.

Maine’s health care exchange will offer plans through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Maine Community Health Options. The Maine Bureau of Insurance expects fewer than 10 percent of state residents to purchase plans on the exchange. Benefits will begin Jan. 1. Most of the rest have insurance through either their workplace or Medicaid.

Western Maine Community Action is hiring 40 staff members and 48 volunteers to work at offices in Sanford, Portland, Bath, Belfast, Waterville, Wilton, Ellsworth and Presque Isle.

The “navigators” hired to provide assistance must undergo 20 to 30 hours of training to get certified.

The offices will have flexible hours to accommodate working people, said Jake Grindle, health services navigator for Western Maine Community Action.

Grindle said some of the grant money will pay for community events to make people aware of the changes to health care.

He expects the teams at the eight sites will be ready to start working with consumers Oct. 1.

The Fishing Partnership, which used to provide subsidized health insurance to fishermen, helped its clients transition to state health programs after Massachusetts passed its own health reform law in 2006, spokesman Brian Delaney said.

The organization hopes that its expertise, combined with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s connections, will help Maine fishermen navigate the insurance exchange, he said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also will have a 24-hour call center to answer questions and help with enrollment.
 

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