The Norman Transcript

September 2, 2013

Groups prepare to help Oklahomans get health plans

Associated Press
The Associated Press

TULSA — Organizations are hiring dozens of people to help Oklahoma residents learn about the new federal health care law.

Officials with two organizations that have received federal grants to train the people say they’re confident the so-called navigators will be ready by Oct. 1, when enrollment begins in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Navigators will be trained to help citizens shop for and enroll in health insurance plans, including how to use exchanges, which are websites people can use to compare plans, the Tulsa World reported.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last month it was awarding $67 million nationally for navigator training, including $1.6 million to three groups in the state.

Little Dixie Action Agency officials were surprised to learn they had won one of three federal grants — worth $580,000 — to train navigators in Oklahoma, executive director Brenda Needham said.

“It’s still a huge learning curve for us,” Needham said. “We just really didn’t suspect we would get this at all, and lo and behold we did. Now we have to make it work, but we are used to this.”

Needham said the agency, which has a budget of about $25 million and coordinates anti-poverty programs, plans to hire a state coordinator and will work with 14 other community action agencies to hire navigators. She said the agency will focus on hiring navigators in southeast Oklahoma as well as communities including Lawton, Chickasha, Stigler and Jay.

Judy Grant, interim executive director of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association, said the Oklahoma City-based group is also ramping up quickly as the opening enrollment date approaches. The association received $860,000 in grant funds to hire navigators.

“We know that there is a daunting task ahead of us,” Grant said. “I think in the first few weeks we are going to learn a lot of lessons.”

The association is funded by the federal government and supports operations of 18 community health centers statewide. It expects to oversee the hiring and training of 80 to 100 navigators in 35 counties.

More than 695,000 Oklahomans lack health insurance. The U.S. Census Bureau says the state ranks behind only four others in the number of uninsured.