MNsure 'navigators' charged with spreading word

Standing at the front of a small classroom on the fourth floor of St. Paul's library, Maureen O'Connell attempted to help the five people at the "MNsure Crash Course" understand how federal health care reform affects their lives.

"So does anybody know what actuarial value means?" O'Connell asked with a smile. No one was sure. Most of the questions were more basic: Ana Reiter, a part-time speech pathologist, wanted to make sure she could transfer from her current COBRA coverage to MNsure (the answer is yes).

O'Connell is the co-founder and project manager for Health Access MN, a major beneficiary of $3.91 million from a federal government grant to private groups that pledged to recruit Minnesotans to sign up for coverage through MNsure, the state's health insurance exchange. These "navigator" groups have a vital role in the success of the health-care law, charged with reaching out to isolated and underprivileged communities.

The federal health overhaul sees a permanent role for groups like Health Access MN, which got a $327,000 grant from MNsure.

Of the 29 organizations to share in those MNsure grants, only two got more than Health Access MN, which was formed only shortly before the grant application deadline. MNsure's grant decisions generated some controversy, as some Democratic lawmakers complained that groups representing black and Somali Minnesotans were underrepresented.

April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure's executive director, said the groups chosen proved they had the experience and partnership to make inroads with hard-to-reach communities statewide.

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