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At least four Kansas coalitions applying for grants




KHI News Service

TOPEKA -- At least four Kansas coalitions plan to apply for federal grants aimed at helping consumers navigate the new, online health insurance marketplaces that are supposed to be in place by Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

"It's a big job and the timeline is pretty quick," said Scott Lakin, who is leading a grant seeking effort to fund outreach to consumers in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. "Applications are due in June. The grants will be awarded in August. The training starts in September and people can start signing up in October. That's not a lot time."

There are 33 states, including Kansas, where the federal government will run the marketplace or exchange because the states chose not to do it themselves.

Each of those 33 is slated to receive two, one-year grants. One grant will be directed toward a statewide outreach effort; the other will go for community-based consumer assistance.

Kansas was one of 12 states to have its combined grants capped at $600,000. The deadline for the grant applications is June 7. A total of $56 million is expected to be awarded nationally.

Two Kansas coalitions -- one led by Families Together Inc., the other by the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved -- are applying for the statewide grant.

"I'm working on the application now," said Connie Zienkewicz, who runs Families Together Inc., a support program for disabled children and their families with offices in Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, and Garden City.

The coalition is called the Kansas Statewide Marketplace Access and Referral Team or K-SMART.

The Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved  announced last month  it would apply for one of the grants on behalf of a consortium that also includes the Kansas Hospital Association, the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, the Kansas Area Agencies on Aging Association, and the Kansas Insurance Department.

Zienkewicz said K-SMART might be put in the position of competing with the KAMU-led consortium for the statewide grant, or federal officials might end up telling the two groups to work together.

"We might, we might not," be competing, she said. "They might set an amount and tell us to negotiate with each other. I don't think anybody knows. It'll be interesting."

A Wichita group and a Kansas City group are each preparing to apply for the community-based outreach grant, and the Mid-America Regional Council is leading a similar initiative in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The marketplaces, also known as exchanges, are a key component of the Affordable Care Act. They are intended to ensure consumers access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage.

The federal health reform law requires that most Americans who can afford health insurance have it by Jan. 1 or pay a penalty.

Federal subsidies will be available to most people who otherwise could not afford the insurance.