By Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A phone-center program funded by grants from the 2010 health care law has helped 200,000 people in 22 states gain access to health insurance in its first year of existence, administration officials plan to report today.
"We've been really pleased about the data," said Mike Hash, the director of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The program, he said, provides new resources for consumers dealing with a "complex" health insurance market.
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The Community Assistance Program (CAP) grants went out to the states to set up help lines for consumers to call when they had a problem with health insurance. Such issues include getting insurance, figuring out a billing issue, filing an appeal after being denied coverage or understanding new rules under the law.
A CAP may be run by a local government or an independent consumer office, and some of them work with non-profit organizations to increase their reach.
In the first year of the program, which began in October 2010, states received $30 million in grants to establish or strengthen programs.
About 60% of callers received full case-management services, and about 40% received educational or referral services, the Center for Medicare Services reported.
When centers provided case-management services, such as filing an appeal for denied services, 76% of resolved cases were found in favor of the consumer - for a total of $18 million in savings, Hash said.
Elizabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives at the Community Services Society of New York, said that in the first year of the state's program, about 5% of the calls were about how to use the law to maintain health insurance after losing a job. Other calls involved having parts of the law explained, such as how to extend health insurance to adult children younger than 26.
New York City has had a similar program in place for 10 years, Benjamin said, but it had died in the latest round of city budget cuts. The grants saved the program and expanded it to the rest of the state, he said.
To access a CAP, visit www.healthcare.gov/using-insurance/managing/consumer-help/index.html.