Colorado Offers Exchange ‘Assister’ Money To Many Groups

Obamacare in Colorado is getting down to the details, in dollars and cents.

Colorado's State Capitol by Jesse Varner via Flickr

One of the 16 states that is setting up its own online insurance marketplace, Colorado on Monday named 58 organizations it’s selected to form its “assistance network” to help residents sign up for health coverage on the exchange. But just 11 organizations are getting all the money they applied for, and it’s unclear how many of the 58 will accept the grants they’ve been offered. That may mean gaps in reaching all corners of the state, or specifically targeted populations, such as refugees, rural Latinos, or the disabled.

A total of 74 groups applied in April for assistance network grants to do the work, they ranged from hospitals and county public health agencies to ethnic associations and the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, “the voice of trucking in Colorado.”

Their collective ask? More than $57 million. Money available? Seventeen million, mostly from expected but yet-to-be-awarded federal and local health foundation grants.

“That’s meant some very difficult decisions needed to be made getting us into our budget range,” said Assistance Network Manager Adela Flores-Brennan.

“Some may say, ‘We can’t do this,'” said exchange CEO Patty Fontneau. “Realize we had to cut 70 percent of the requests, when you look at the amount of money that was requested.”

The exchange is offering would-be assistance groups grants ranging from as much as $816,000 for a statewide family development organization to nothing at all for a local public health department and a state agency that aren’t asking for funding but will be part of the assistance network.

The exchange board is working with organizations about the scope of work and their budgets. The final list of those participating “will be finalized in coming weeks.”

Until then, it’s unknown how many actual “assisters” each will employ, and where exactly they will, and won’t, be distributed across the state.

Most of Colorado’s 5.2 million people live in an urban corridor stretching north and south of Denver along Interstate 25. Most of the assistance network funding is aimed at that corridor. The prairies, mountains and deserts outside it can be very sparsely populated and challenging to travel across due to topography and fickle weather.

Colorado’s goal is to set up assistance “hubs” in six regional locations that will support satellite assistance sites in dozens more.

Boulder County is being offered $350,000 to operate the most populous hub in eight counties including and surrounding Denver, home to more than 3.5 million people.

In contrast, a hospital in Alamosa in the southwestern part of Colorado is being offered $168,000 to operate in 11 of the state’s least populous counties, with a total of only 281,000 people. Over half live in Pueblo county alone, and just 710 in mountainous Mineral County.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that no organization that applied for funding got all the money it asked for. In fact, 11 organizations did. There are also six, not five, regional hubs and Boulder County is operating the most populous one.