CITYWIDE — Two local health clinics received federal grants this week to educate community members about their options under the new healthcare law, pieces of which will come into effect at the beginning of next year.

Westside Family Health Center and Venice Family Clinic each won grants from the Department of Health and Human Services that will allow the centers to beef up their staffing in the run up to October, when patients will be able to pre-enroll for state health plan exchanges that will become effective on Jan. 1, 2014 under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

The law provides for an expansion of Medi-Cal, a health insurance program for low-income individuals, as well as state exchanges where people can buy their own insurance directly.

The effect will be that millions who previously could not get insurance either because of the price or pre-existing conditions will suddenly have the ability to purchase insurance, and the infusion of $150 million in grant money aims to ensure they will also have the knowledge to pick the right option.

The grants went to 1,159 health centers across the nation. The money is expected to hire 2,900 eligibility assistance workers that will help millions learn about the brave new world of healthcare and how it applies to them.

Westside Family Health Center received $148,958 to hire two new employees and will receive help from five interns from the Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute.

Venice Family Clinic received $166,789, money that will translate into three new people to bolster their ability to reach out to the patients they currently serve as well as other segments of the community, said Karen Lauterbach, community health insurance program manager for Venice Family Clinic.

The clinic focused most of its efforts on children and pregnant women. With the new employees, that will change, Lauterbach said.

“We’re really going to develop all of our education materials and go to all of the places that community members need,” she said.

Roughly 86 percent of the clients that use the Westside Family Health Center are uninsured, and the center has access to almost 17,000 others, said Deb Farmer, president and CEO of the center.

The two centers can reach at least 50,000 people through their immediate networks, a figure that shows the reach of the community health clinics, and why federal officials chose them to spread the word about Obamacare.

The money is a recognition of the effectiveness of the community health center model, said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association.

Health centers already serve 21 million patients each year, with almost a quarter of those in California alone.

“It’s wonderful, the funding from the (Health Resources and Services Administration) was an injection of resources right when we needed it,” Castellano-Garcia said. “The timing couldn’t have been better.”

Health centers face a critical challenge. They will be tasked to reach people like the homeless, who will be missed by mailers from the federal government, and those who have made too much money to qualify for Medi-Cal in the past, but too little to afford health insurance for themselves or their families.

Many will need multiple contacts to really get the message across because, as Farmer knows, healthcare is a complex topic, and community health centers will be there to guide people through the door opened by the new law.

“This is the biggest thing to happen to health care,” she said. “It’s huge, exciting and scary.”

 

 

ashley@smdp.com