Last week, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $150 million in federal grants for community health centers to assist people in signing up for government health care as part of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Idaho received a small share of the cash, $1.38 million to be exact. The funds will flow to 11 health centers including facilities in Caldwell, Nampa, Sandpoint, Glenns Ferry and Pocatello.
The centers will hire 25 workers for 52 weeks each to perform the ground work. HHS expects Idaho outreach workers to enlist more than 13,000 state residents in government-run health programs.
Nationwide, these workers have their work cut out for them. An April 2013 poll revealed that more than 40 percent of Americans don’t even realize Obamacare is the law of the land.
As the nation barrels closer to Oct. 1, 2013, when Americans can begin signing up for government health care through online marketplaces, outreach coordinators are charged with informing citizens of their options.
To get there, though, outreach coalitions may include some that Idahoans may find problematic, including Planned Parenthood of Idaho.
Ashley Piaskowski, officially the patient enrollment outreach coordinator at Coeur d’Alene’s Dirne Community Health Center, told IdahoReporter.com this week that she and her colleagues are considering working with Planned Parenthood and the Idaho Community Action Partnership to increase reach. “All of those conversations are happening right now,” she said of the potential plans to partner with Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood could become just a piece in a coalition that Piaskowski seeks to build to entice people to sign up for government health care. In all, she said, she may work with as many as 200 different nonprofit groups to spread her message.
Across the country, conservative critics lambast the positions—more than 1,100 funded through federal cash nationwide—as an army of spin doctors and pro-Obamacare public relations specialists.
Ben Domenech, an analyst with the conservative Heartland Institute, told Watchdog.org last week that the specialists are unnecessary and redundant.
“There are already thousands of employees focused on enrolling people in Medicaid and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) at these health centers, but HHS wants to double the number, because they understand that the more people they shove into this unsustainable program, the harder it will be to repeal,” Domenech said.
Domenech also charged the coordinators are just spin doctors to sell Obamacare to a skeptical nation.
“They’re going to use this money to hire Obamacare promoters, who will push people who come through their doors to sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage, whether through Medicaid, the CHIP or the (private insurance) exchanges,” he told Watchdog.org.
Piaskowski confirmed that the majority of the patients who utilize the Dirne Clinic, a center for low-cost health coverage in Idaho’s panhandle, will likely sign up for Medicaid or CHIP.
Others, she said, will work through the Idaho health exchange, an online marketplace for buying coverage, to purchase insurance and gain access to federal subsidies for care.
She denied criticism that the outreach effort is simply to generate positive spin for the controversial health reform. Instead, she said, her job, along with those like her across the nation, is to implement and carry out the law.
“That decision has already been made for us,” she said of Obamacare, adding that she only seeks to “inform people of their options.”
Dirne received more than $147,000 in grant funding, which it used to hire three outreach workers. Besides meeting with community nonprofits, Piaskowski said one of the Dirne employees would try to meet with as many of the clinic’s patients as possible.