June 23, 2017  

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Social Work Earns $1.2 Million Health Insurance Grant; will expand outreach efforts of City of Hattiesburg’s E3 Health Initiative

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The School of Social Work at The University of Southern Mississippi has been awarded more than $1.2 million in Affordable Care Act funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The funds will help consumers sign up for affordable Health Insurance Marketplace coverage in 2016.

With Marketplace Open Enrollment beginning Nov. 1, the funding will support outreach efforts designed to connect people with local help as they seek to understand coverage options and financial assistance available at HealthCare.gov.

“The beneficiaries of the project are uninsured individuals and families in Mississippi’s three southernmost health care districts eligible for health insurance under the landmark Affordable Care Act,” said Dr. Michael Forster, dean of the College of Health and principle investigator. “Assessing options and matching them to people’s needs is complicated, to say the least, hence the value of providing trained navigators to help in the process.”

The health access project is a replication of the city of Hattiesburg’s and School of Social Work’s Educate, Enroll, Empower (E3) Health Initiative with the addition of Marketplace enrollment. The School will facilitate the project by hiring and training a project coordinator and three navigators. While grants could continue for three years, each year CMS will assess Navigator grantees’ performance for ongoing support. 

“Navigators will engage in two different types of tasks; in-reach, where they will recruit and train agency personnel who will help individuals enroll, and out-reach, where they will bring services to community agencies such as WIC distribution centers,” said Dr. Laura Richard, assistant professor of social work and project co-director.

Navigators and assisters are trained specialists who provide consumers with in-person help, answering their questions about their health insurance and financial assistance options and assisting them as they complete their application. Richard said navigators will also provide assistance with enrollment, referral to consumer assistance programs, translation services, and helping advocate for those who have been denied coverage but are eligible.

“I am very proud of the success the City of Hattiesburg’s E3 Health Initiative has had over the past 12 months,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree. “Many Hattiesburg children and families now have health coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Plan as a result of E3 efforts to simplify the enrollment process and to make health coverage more accessible. Our long-term partnership with the Southern Miss School of Social Work has again resulted in an opportunity to maintain and extend needed services not only to Hattiesburg, but now to the 24 southernmost counties in Mississippi.”

Social work graduate students will also be trained on the enrollment process. While completing their internship at state agencies, students will be able to help consumers find health coverage.

“As an applied discipline the goal is that we not only engage in scholarship for students and faculty, but that we do something for the community,” said Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work. “In Mississippi, there are many social determinates that prevent people from having access to health care. This project provides a unique opportunity for the School of Social Work to make a difference in the health and well-being of residents.”

“I have always believed that if we could solve problems in Mississippi, we can solve those problems across the nation,” said DuPree. “Earning the Navigator Grant due to the success of a City of Hattiesburg program is proof that we are well on the way to doing just that.”

For more information about the School of Social Work in The University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Health, visit www.usm.edu/socialwork. For more information about Navigators and other Marketplace resources, visit: www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Health-Insurance-Marketplaces...