EAGLE — Changes are on the near horizon because of the national Health Care Reform Act, and Eagle County is preparing a way to help residents navigate those changes.
“Every state is required to operate a health insurance exchange, or what is now being called a marketplace,” said Eagle County Economic Services Director Kathleen Lyons. “Seventeen states, including Colorado, chose to operate their own exchange rather than utilizing the federal exchange. Colorado’s is scheduled to open in October, and the new health plans kick in Jan. 1. We realized there were going to be a lot of people in a lot of communities with a lot of questions, so we took a look at funding opportunities to help us with that.”
As a result, Eagle County formed a partnership with Garfield and Pitkin counties and Mountain Family Health Centers, to get a $750,000 grant from Connect for Health Colorado.
“We originally asked for more than $2 million, but the pot of money was not big enough and they asked what we could do with $750,000, which is one of the largest grants they awarded,” Lyons said.
The grant will fund a total of six positions, which will be hired and trained by Oct. 1 as part of the Connect for Health Colorado Health Assistance Network.
“There will be four full-time health coverage guides, a manager, who will also be trained as a guide, and a part-time administrative assistant,” she said.
Those positions will be spread strategically throughout the region to serve the different communities.
“This is for individuals, families and small businesses,” Lyons said.
In this tri-county region, there are an estimated 20,000 uninsured people who are under the 400 percent federal poverty level, which is the cap to receive federal subsidy or cost-sharing assistance.
“This service will assist customers in understanding their health insurance options, whether they qualify for the new federal financial assistance and help them enroll in health insurance available through Connect for Health Colorado,” Lyons said.
The guides will deliver local, in-person education and assistance to:
• Individuals and families applying for and enrolling in health insurance coverage and help them find out if they are eligible for new federal financial assistance, based on income.
• Small businesses, to help them understand small group-plan options and whether they are eligible for tax credits, and assisting employees with applying for and enrolling in employer-provided health coverage benefits.
Though the assistance sites will be in central locations, such as El Jebel in the Roaring Fork Valley, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Eagle, the health guides will do a lot of driving.
“About $40,000 of the grant will be used to cover the mileage,” Lyons said.
For now, the service is only funded through December, but that may change.
“Connect for Health Colorado could become self-funded,” Lyons said.
Last November, Eagle County partnered with the Colorado Health Foundation to expand opportunities for qualified individuals and families to apply for Medicaid and CHP+ public health insurance programs. The Foundation provided grant funding to place computer kiosks at eight community locations to facilitate enrollment in Medicaid and CHP+ through the Program Eligibility Application Kit (PEAK), the Colorado state on-line enrollment program.
“That is to help people with programs that already exist and this Connect for Health Colorado grant will help people understand the new health insurance options that become available in October,” Lyons said.