Nonprofits get funds to help Alaskans with health care law

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Two Alaska nonprofit organizations have been selected to receive federal grants to help uninsured Alaskans navigate through the federal health care overhaul.

Enrollment for coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins Oct. 1 and coverage starts Jan. 1. The state of Alaska, however, opted out of establishing an insurance market, so the federal government is stepping in.

“It’s not fair to Alaskans not to have anything, so where that choice has been abdicated by the state, we come in and run the marketplace,” said Susan Johnson, Northwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The two “Navigator” grants announced Thursday are each for about $300,000. The money goes to United Way of Anchorage for urban areas and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for rural areas, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://is.gd/GFRWB0).

Gov. Sean Parnell has excluded the state from two main provisions of the new health care law. One is the insurance exchange or marketplace, where private insurers would compete for business from Alaskans. The other is expansion of Medicaid that would include more low-income residents in the subsidized health care program.

Parnell has said he would reconsider the Medicaid decision in the budget he presents to state lawmakers in January.

Alaska could still be fully reimbursed by the federal government for the expansion as long as it occurs by March 2014, said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Carrie Glover.

Parnell has said he doesn’t trust the federal government to continue to reimburse the state for extra costs.

Johnson said the Medicaid expansion decision potentially affects 40,000 Alaskans.

The Seattle-based Johnson was in Anchorage Thursday to announce the grants. She conceded that the federal health care program passed by Congress in 2010 is complex.

Johnson said two insurance companies are signed up for the Alaska marketplace so far and a third may join them.

Rates are expected to be listed by Oct. 1, Johnson said. Companies on the exchanges are required to disclose their cost and benefits in established categories.

In states choosing to run the exchanges, the states themselves do public outreach with the help of federal grant money. In about 30 states like Alaska, the federal government gives grants to organizations to promote the exchanges.

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