2 nonprofits share $3.3 million in ‘navigator’ grants

Two nonprofit organizations will divide $3.3 million in federal money to provide “navigators” to help consumers enroll in the Georgia health insurance exchange this fall, the federal government announced Monday.

Sylvia Burwell
Sylvia Burwell

Navigators provide face-to-face, in-person help for consumers seeking information about the exchanges.

SEEDCO (Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation) will receive nearly $2.2 million, roughly the same as it received last year as a navigator grantee.

The second grantee will be an alliance led by Macon-based Community Health Works and consisting of cancer coalitions and other organizations. It will get $1.1 million.

Nationally, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced $60 million in navigator grant awards to 90 organizations in states with federally facilitated and state partnership exchanges. Also known as marketplaces, the exchanges were created under the Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as Obamacare.

SEEDCO navigators will again cover metro Atlanta and other regions of the state.

“We’re tremendously excited to do this work again,’’ said Ben Thomases of SEEDCO, which will also provide navigators in Tennessee, New York and Maryland.

The Community Health Works coalition will focus its efforts in non-Atlanta areas.

Last year, the second grantee was the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, which received nearly $1.7 million for navigators.

But UGA was barred from applying this year. A law passed in the Georgia General Assembly early in 2014 prohibits state government units from running navigator programs. Senior Georgia officials — longtime opponents of the ACA — have been critical of using navigators in general.

Fred Ammons, CEO of Community Health Works, told GHN on Monday that his coalition received about a half-million dollars less than UGA received in 2013, though it requested a similar amount.

Fred Ammons
Fred Ammons

“There may be a limitation in scope,’’ he said Monday when asked how many navigators the coalition planned to hire. “We have to re-budget.”

The upcoming open enrollment period begins Nov. 15.

More than 316,000 Georgians signed up for coverage in the exchange last year, which was run, as in many states, by the federal government. The enrollments came despite major technical problems last fall, which have since been ironed out.

Ammons said Community Health Works’ cancer coalition in Macon will join with those in Rome, Athens, Columbus, Albany and Savannah to deliver navigator services around the state.

“We have grass-roots connections in the communities,” he said.

Ammons added that he does not expect the same political winds that swirled around the UGA unit’s navigator work.

“We’re in a very different position, being a private nonprofit,” he said. “Much of the concern last year was the state [entity] doing this work.’’

Dante McKay, state director for Get Covered America, said Monday in a statement, “In-person assistance is critical to successful enrollment, especially for hard-to-reach populations like Latinos and African-Americans. The $3.3M investment the Georgia organizations will receive . . . is evidence of a strong commitment toward ensuring that more Georgians are able to successfully enroll in health insurance coverage.”

Ammons said that his Insure GA coalition will work hard to build public trust.

“I think there is confusion as to where to go for help,’’ he added.

“Whatever your politics are on the ACA, this is the tool we have at our disposal now to help the uninsured and underinsured. We can help a lot of Georgians who do not have access to basic health care.’”