A House-passed bill to replace the payment formula for doctors in Medicare and extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program includes money that could be used to help consumers enroll in Obamacare’s exchange plans or any other government-sponsored health program.
Obamacare created the Community Health Centers Fund and allotted $9 billion to it, along with $2 billion to fund construction of community health centers, from 2011-2015.
The mandatory funding is scheduled to end after this year. But H.R. 2, the bill passed by the House last week, includes an extension of Obamacare’s funding for health centers (Community Health Centers, National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Centers) for two years, at the cost of an estimated $8 billion.
The main purpose of community health centers is to provide primary care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations. But, according to the Public Health Service Act, this includes “patient case management services (including counseling, referral, and follow-up services) and other services designed to assist health center patients in establishing eligibility for and gaining access to Federal, State, and local programs that provide or financially support the provision of medical, social, housing, educational, or other related services.”
So far, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued grants funded by Obamacare to community health centers for the specific purpose of consumer outreach and enrollment assistance three times: $150 million in fiscal year 2013, $58 million in fiscal year 2014 and $8 million in fiscal year 2015 for a total of $216 million.
The stated purpose of these grants is to “support health centers in raising awareness of affordable insurance options and providing eligibility and enrollment assistance to uninsured patients of health centers and residents in their approved service areas.” These activities are similar to those of navigators and in-person assisters, which facilitate the enrollment process for Obamacare’s exchange plans using taxpayer funds.
Using taxpayer funds for activities that steer more people into government health programs fits with the overall nature of Obamacare and its movement towards more government control in health care.