PHOENIX - Federal health officials announced Wednesday they are spending $150 million, including $2.2 million in Arizona, to help people sign up for the Affordable Care Act.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in Phoenix to unveil the program, said the money will allow 17 health-care organizations, operating 140 sites around the state, to reach nearly 62,000 people without insurance. The aim is to get them signed up for expanded Medicaid programs or the subsidized coverage offered through federally run health-insurance exchanges.
Sebelius said providing the money to the community health care centers is the most efficient way get the word out because they are often the primary care providers of last resort and already serve 21 million patients.
"And they're in some of the neighborhoods that stand to benefit the most from expansion to health coverage," she said.
Sebelius said the grants are not about persuading people to enroll. "It's really about helping a lot of people who have never signed up for health insurance before," she said.
Open enrollment begins Oct. 1. And while she said there is a user-friendly website, some people are not fully computer-literate.
"They may need help with answering questions, with translation. We want to make sure that people know what their options are, and then can make a great decision," she said.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer declined to have the state set up its own health-insurance exchange where individuals could shop for coverage. Instead, the exchange here will be run by the federal government.
The other option for Arizonans will be an expanded Medicaid program, approved by the Legislature earlier this year and scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, unless blocked by a referendum effort now underway. The expansion is expected to add 300,000 people to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
Sebelius praised Brewer, who bucked many in her own Republican Party to win legislative approval of Medicaid expansion.
"We were very pleased to see that when she made what is really a return-on-investment analysis, restoring Medicaid made sense for Arizona," Sebelius said. "It means additional federal dollars will come into Arizona."
One issue with getting more people signed up for health coverage is a concern with a possible doctor shortage, due not just to the addition of 300,000 patients to the AHCCCS rolls, but also hundreds of thousands who could be drawn in because of a mandate to have insurance if they are not otherwise covered by an employer.
But Sebelius said this particular outreach through health centers should not exacerbate the problem.
"A lot of the people coming to health centers right now are in the uninsured or underinsured population," she said.
They still will get their care at the same centers, Sebelius said, only this time with coverage.
Where it goes
Southern Arizona Health Centers that will share in the federal grant:
• Ajo Community Health Center, Ajo - $64,995
• Chiricahua Community Health Care, Douglas - $185,522
• El Rio Santa Cruz Neighborhood Health Center, Tucson - $290,077
• Marana Health Center, Marana - $178,262
• Mariposa Community Health Center, Nogales - $98,578
• United Community Health Center-Maria Auxiliadora, Green Valley - $77,546
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services