California health centers receive $21.9 million in federal grants

Nathaniel Solley/Staff
The LifeLong Medical Center is planning to use its new funds from the federal government to hire new outreach and enrollment staff members.

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The LifeLong Medical Care center in Berkeley has received $236,826 in federal grants to help enroll uninsured patients in new health care coverage options.

On Wednesday, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced $150 million in grants for health centers nationwide, $21.9 million of which will go to 129 California health centers to assist Americans in exploring insurance options made available by the Affordable Care Act.

According to Linda Collins, patient services manager at LifeLong Medical Care, the center is planning to use the funding to hire new outreach and enrollment staff members. The center expects to add seven new staff members to the current team of 12, and they will be involved in enrollment and outreach.

As part of its outreach efforts, the LifeLong Medical Care center will meet the community at churches and schools as well as host events and collaborations with statewide partners.

Collins said that LifeLong Medical Care currently serves more than 30,000 patients and intends to increase the number of patients by at least 6,000 by the end of the enrollment period in March.

LifeLong Medical Care has helped many Berkeley residents over the course of 37 years with a variety of services.

“They had a class on smoking,” said Johnnie Mae Poindexter, a 93-year-old patient at LifeLong. “They helped me to quit smoking. I smoked for 53 years.”

Health centers across the nation aim to enroll 3.7 million people with the help of 2,900 additional workers. In California, health centers are expected to hire 411 additional workers with the grants and enroll 575,863 residents, Sebelius said.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, health centers in California served 3.2 million patients last year, and 42 percent were uninsured.

“With these awards, consumers will get help understanding their coverage options through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (and) determine their eligibility and what financial help they can get, so they can enroll in new affordable health care options,” said Martin Kramer, director of communications for the Health Resources and Services Administration, in an email.

The HRSA announced the availability of funds in May and accepted applications from health centers. 1,159 out of 1,200 health centers were awarded grants.

“These awards are one piece of the enrollment effort,” Kramer said in the email.

Yolie Gamble, clinic director at the LifeLong Medical Care center in West Berkeley, said that many patients were currently unaware that they could be treated and have the costs covered.

“More patients will know they have coverage and feel they’re not going to go into huge debt,” Gamble said. “I think it’s opening up people’s eyes.”

Contact Somin Park at [email protected].