Full Steam Ahead With Individual Mandate: HHS Announces $150M to Enroll Uninsured Americans

By Susan Jones | July 10, 2013 | 10:47am EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - As the Obama adminstration delays a key part of the Affordable Care Act -- the requirement that businesses provide affordable insurance to employees -- it is moving aggressively on the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or else pay a penalty.

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced $150 million in grant awards to 1,159 health centers across the nation to enroll uninsured Americans in Obamacare's new insurance coverage options.

The health centers are expected to use the money to hire an additional 2,900 "outreach and eligibility assistance workers," who will help millions of people nationwide enroll in affordable health insurance.

Specifically, the health centers will help consumers understand their coverage options in the new health insurance exchanges/marketplaces, as well as the options available under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The outreach workers also will help people determine their eligibility and what financial help they can get; and help sign them up.

“Investing in health centers means that people in neighborhoods and towns across the country have one more resource to help them understand their insurance options and enroll in affordable coverage,” Sebelius said in a news release issued ahead of her in-person annoucement later Wednesday at the Mountain Park Health Center in Phoenix, Ariz..

HHS says health centers serve 21 million patients annually and "have a long history of providing eligibility assistance to patients" in addition to delivering primary health care services.

The money is going to health centers in all 50 states, and the grant awards come in addition to the "Navigator" program, which is also getting taxpayer money to help people understand their options under Obamacare.

Today’s announcement is part of the administration's broader effort to make applying for health coverage as easy as possible, HHS said.

“Health centers are excited to help individuals in their communities take advantage of the benefits of new health insurance coverage options that start January 2014,” said Mary Wakefield, head of HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. “Having trained, face-to-face assistance in enrollment from trusted resources at local health centers means that more people will get the help they need.”

Last week, the Obama administration announced it would delay for one year the law's requirement that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees provide affordable insurance to their workers or face hefty fines.

Republicans, and even some Democrats, said the Executive Branch cannot change the law without congressional action. And many Republicans say the individual mandate, not just the employer mandate, should be delayed or scrapped.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that that the Obama administration decided to delay the employer mandate by one year because it was unprepared to implement that part of the law.

Among other things, Obamacare requires companies with at least 50 full-time workers to report to the IRS how many employees they have, how much those employees earn, and how much they're paying for health insurance premiums.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, the systems for reporting that information to the government have not been set up, nor have the rules for setting up those sytems been issued.

So, by delaying the mandate, the administration is giving itself more time to get ready.

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