A University of Southern Mississippi program that helped more than 38,000 south Mississippi residents navigate the complexities of the federal health insurance marketplace is ending because of cuts by the Trump administration.
The Mississippi Health Access Collaborative was funded with a $1.4 million, three-year grant that expires Sept. 12. Continuing funding was cut to $100,000, which can no longer sustain the project, said director Kathryn Rehner.
“It might be more feasible for a smaller entity or a nonprofit, but it’s not something we can do through the University of Southern Mississippi,” she said.
The collaborative, known as an Affordable Care Act navigator program, helped enroll 2,000 eligible south Mississippians in the Affordable Care Act and assisted tens of thousands more with health insurance consumer issues, including insurance eligibility questions.
“We did community education and let people know what’s out there and available to them,” Rehner said. “There are a lot of people who are working and making money, but aren’t offered (health insurance) coverage.
“They just didn’t know what’s out there, how to access it and where to go for information. We served that purpose for them. We were part of the University of Southern Mississippi — a trusted, established entity.”
Workers with the collaborative would set up shop at public health departments in the state’s 24 southernmost counties, as well as at county WIC distribution centers.
“We’d go where people were, and enrolling them in health insurance was quick, easy and accessible (for them),” Rehner said. “We became part of the community in most of our counties, and it spread by word of mouth.”
Rehner estimates 90 percent of the enrollees were single mothers, along with some elderly and disabled people.
But all services are now coming to an end with the decision by the Trump administration to slash the program from $36 million to $10 million nationwide. That reduction comes two years after the initiative was chopped from $63 million.
Michael Forster, School of Social Work professor, who helped apply for and manage the grant, said the reduction is an attack on the Affordable Care Act.
“The administration set a course of bleeding it out,” he said in a news release. “As the saying goes — it’s ‘death by a thousand cuts.’”
Rehner said officials are now working to redirect recipients to other agencies and services that can help them.
“There’s still a need for it, and it’s hard to be in a situation where we can’t do anything about it,” she said. “There’s just no way for us to provide any sustainable services.
“It’s been an emotionally tough go for us. This is not how I hoped this project would end.”
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