Grants will help reach valley's uninsured as health reform nears

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 14, 2013 

    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken

— California's health exchange has awarded $37 million in grants to educate up to 9 million consumers about the Affordable Care Act, with most of the funding going to outreach plans targeting a dozen or more counties.

None of the grants announced Tuesday were for groups that primarily focus services on Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties, which have large, culturally diverse populations of uninsured residents.

Catholic Charities of the Stockton Diocese, with a long history of serving the poor and immigrant communities in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, was snubbed by Covered California. So was the Stanislaus County Office of Education, which was among the more than 200 applicants.

United Way of California will receive $1 million and over 20 months will work with chapters in 11 counties, including Stanislaus and Merced, to help people navigate the health reform program. The federal government will make health insurance mandatory next year and help eligible residents obtain affordable coverage through the California exchange.

"I don't know what the cut will be for Stanislaus County," said Francine DiCiano, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Stanislaus. She said the parent organization wrote a grant proposal that partly targeted the Central Valley because of the need.

It's estimated that more than 43,000 residents in Stanislaus County will be eligible for tax credits to help them buy insurance. More than half are Latino, and 37 percent are non-Latino whites, who may need help understanding their options.

Through its workplace campaigns, United Way of Stanislaus will reach out to seasonal, part-time and contract workers who are not eligible for company benefits, DiCiano said. United Way will spread the word at health fairs and through its 211 social service call line. "We won't do any enrollment," she said. "We will refer people to assisters who will do the actual enrollment."

Other groups that are supposed to include Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties in their outreach are California NAACP, Oakland-based California School Health Centers Association, Central Valley Health Network, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte and the University of California at Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

Stanislaus and Merced counties will be included in a University of California regents effort to educate students and young adults about the law. Planned Parenthood, which plans outreach in a 16-county area, did not return calls seeking information.

Covered California officials said during a news conference that groups awarded funding will educate people through high-tech and "high-touch" community efforts. The exchange will spend money on a media blitz and could consider another round of grants later this year to fill gaps, officials said.

Homero Mejia, director of Modesto-based Congregations Building Community, said a lot of outreach is needed to overcome language barriers in Stanislaus County. The nonprofit did not apply to Covered California but is seeking a foundation grant to pay for outreach.

"It is complex for me, and just imagine how complex it is for the families that will be trying to navigate this," Mejia said. In Stanislaus County, outreach needs to be tailored for Latino, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and other ethnic groups, he said.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton thought it had a strong proposal for educating hard-to-reach Latino and Asian populations in San Joaquin County. The charity serving San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties did not join with Catholic Charities of California, which was given $859,000 to do one-on-one and group education in Merced and 12 other counties.

As a result, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties won't be part of the Catholic Charities of California outreach campaign. "We bet on the wrong horse," said Elvira Ramirez, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Stockton Diocese.

Ramirez said the funding awarded to groups planning to do work in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties is "a good start. ... But is it enough? I don't know."

Covered California funded five proposals to help more than 200,000 small-business owners understand the legal requirements and their options for insuring workers. They include the Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, California Association of Non-Profits, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Foundation, Small Business Majority and California Small Business Education Foundation.

The 48 groups awarded funding are expected to reach consumers in all the 58 counties, through 13 languages, including college students, single adults and families.

The Sacramento-based Central Valley Health Network, awarded $750,000 for outreach in 18 counties, will work with members of its consortium, which include Merced-based Golden Valley Health Centers, Livingston Medical Group and Community Medical Centers in Stockton. Its plan for educating residents of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties calls for presentations at schools, clinics, churches and community meetings, door-to-door counseling and outreach to colleges.

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