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Health

Kansas Navigator Grants Renewed For Three Years

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Wednesday that it had renewed its navigator grants with two Kansas programs: Ascension Health and the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved (KAMU).

The grants will, in part, underwrite the programs’ efforts to help uninsured and underinsured Kansans understand the coverage and financial assistance that are available on the federal health insurance marketplace, healthcare.gov. The marketplace was established as part of the Affordable Care Act to increase access to health insurance.

“We’re looking forward to helping more people enroll in health plans that they can afford and that will best meet their needs,” said KAMU spokesperson Katrina McGivern.

KAMU’s grant is for $516,000 a year for three years, while Ascension Health will receive $247,000 a year for three years.

Between November 2014 and February 2015, KAMU-sponsored navigators helped more than 15,300 Kansans buy insurance and Ascension Health-sponsored navigators helped 4,000.

Ascension Health is the nation's largest Catholic nonprofit health system. Its Kansas holdings include the Via Christi Health hospitals in Wichita and Pittsburg, Mercy Regional Health Center in Manhattan and Wamego Health Center in Wamego, as well as several clinics throughout the state.

“This is going to allow us to help individuals throughout the Kansas community get coverage and, in the long run, get the screenings and prevention services they need to catch cancers earlier,” said Maggie Ward, who oversees Ascension Health’s navigators in Kansas.

Ascension Health’s navigators, she said, make sure their patients understand that under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans are required to cover cancer screenings and preventive treatments.

“Hopefully this will help us catch problems long before (patients) wind up in the hospital with a significant disease,” Ward said.

Ascension Health, she said, plans to use a portion of its grant to develop webinars and expand its teleconferencing abilities.

KAMU, McGivern said, will use its grant to hire 15 full-time navigators prior to the Nov. 1 start of the 2015-2016 open enrollment period.

A “special emphasis,” she said, will be placed on reaching out to the 341,000 Kansans who are currently uninsured.

“We’re also going to host 10 ‘Cover Kansas’ open-enrollment events where navigators in a particular area — Wichita, for example — will all come together and be available at the same time,” McGivern said.

Though KAMU represents the state’s safety net clinics, it administers its grant on behalf of the Cover Kansas Consortium. That group includes the Kansas Hospital Education and Research Foundation, Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, Kansas Health Reform Project and the Kansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities.

KAMU and Ascension Health were awarded navigator grants in 2013 and 2014.

Kansas is one of 34 states dividing more than $67 million in navigator grants this year.

In Missouri, three organizations received navigator grants: Missouri Alliance of Area Agencies on Aging, which serves 110 counties and got $891,095; Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, which got $388,787; and St. Louis Effort for AIDS, Inc., which got $545,704.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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