September 8, 2014; Washington Post


Nonprofits ought to be excited that new money is flowing to the sector for one of the most productive functions that nonprofits have carried out in recent years. The Department of Health and Human Services announced $60 million in grants for health insurance “navigators” who will be helping consumers in 34 states purchase health insurance on the state exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.

The grantees are a mix of nonprofits and public agencies, but the nonprofit presence is clear and powerful. Among the nonprofits that will be fielding teams of navigators in the coming year are these:

  • Arizona: Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, an alliance of 37 health centers with 220 clinical sites
  • Georgia: Health Care Central Georgia (Community Health Works), an alliance of six regional cancer coalitions and other organizations forming the Insure GA consortium, focused on providing outreach at point-of-care sites.
  • Illinois: Illinois Migrant Council, targeting migrant and other low-income agricultural workers in rural communities
  • Kansas: Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, the lead agency for the Kansas Marketplace Consortium, a coalition of 427 safety net clinic, health department, hospital, Community Mental Health Center and Area Agency on Aging locations, pledging to recruit and field “an army of volunteers”
  • Louisiana: Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, which is convening regional advisory panels to include consumer representation “to insure meaningful input into the planning and implementation of outreach activities”
  • Michigan: Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS), which advocates for the Arab, Chaldean, and Bangladeshi communities of metropolitan Detroit
  • Mississippi: Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church Ministries, serving the Mississippi River Delta region, training “clergy to be health ambassadors”
  • Montana: Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, with members from seven reservations, aiming to assist Native Americans living in or near the reservations or in urban areas
  • New Hampshire: Greater Derry Community Health Services, Inc., which says that its first-year experience as ACA navigators demonstrated “that outreach to schools, physician offices, apartment complexes and retail establishments” is critically important and effective
  • New Jersey: the Community Health Law Project, targeting “disadvantaged, vulnerable and disabled citizens that were affected by Super Storm Sandy”
  • North Dakota: North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities at Minot State University, “specifically targeting those most at risk of being uninsured in North Dakota, including people with mild disabilities, people with mental health disorders, farmers, young adults, Native Americans, small businesspersons, people who are unemployed and people who are drug or alcohol addicted”
  • Ohio: Ohio Association of Food Banks
  • Oklahoma: Little Dixie Community Action Agency, working with a consortium of 16 community action agencies serving 68 of 77 counties in Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania: Penn Asian Senior Services, aiming to serve Cambodians, Chinese, Korean, South Asian, Vietnamese, and Bhutanese individuals in Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware counties through use of networks and community ties to reach these communities
  • Texas: Migrant Health Promotion (MHP Salud), focused on enrolling and educating migrant populations in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; also Change Happens, a Houston-based nonprofit that will be coordinating with Children’s Books on Wheels, the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, and Dia del Mujer Latina for public education and outreach

These and other navigator grantees are truly impressive for the creative programming and powerful coalitions they are developing to reach various population groups. Remember that in many cases, they are operating in states where state government authorities may not have been particularly friendly to navigators, much less the Affordable Care Act. The ability of these navigators to craft targeted strategies that meet local and state-specific needs is exactly what the nonprofit sector can do to make government programs effective.

Sadly, this year’s $60 million in navigators grants is less than last year’s $67 million. These groups demonstrate why if this nation were truly committed, Republicans and Democrats, to make national health insurance work, nonprofits would be at the center of strategies to make health insurance coverage comprehensively available to everyone in need.—Rick Cohen