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HELENA – Three groups have been awarded federal grants to become “navigators,” helping uninsured Montanans sign up for subsidized, private health insurance available under the Affordable Care Act – including Planned Parenthood of Montana.

Planned Parenthood, which has several health clinics around the state, won a $295,600 grant to hire and train navigators.

“We looked at our patient population, and a majority of them will be eligible to enter the (federal) insurance marketplace on October 1st,” said Stacey Anderson, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood. “We want to play a role to help guide them through the process and help them understand what insurance products they could get.”

The other Montana navigator grants, announced Thursday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, went to the Montana Primary Care Association, for $299,400, and the Montana Health Network, for $143,000.

The association is the trade group representing Montana’s 30 federally funded health clinics and satellite clinics for low-income citizens. The Health Network, based in Miles City, is a cooperative that serves small hospitals in eastern Montana.

Chris Hopkins, vice president of strategy and business development for the network, said Thursday its grant will be used to train hospital staff to be navigators.

“People in rural communities are going to the hospitals anyways to ask for health information, so we’re training staff on site at those facilities to be those navigators,” he said.

Officials at the Primary Care Association could not be reached for comment.

CMS announced grants Thursday for 105 groups nationwide.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said navigators will be “among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace.”

Navigators will be trained to provide “unbiased information in a culturally competent manner” to consumers about their options to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, CMS officials said.

Starting Oct. 1, Montana and other states will have an Internet insurance marketplace, where consumers can shop for policies that take effect Jan. 1. To qualify for a federal subsidy to help pay the premiums, consumers must buy their policy through the marketplace.

Three companies – Blue Cross, PacificSource and the new Montana Health Co-op – will be selling policies on Montana’s marketplace.

Consumers earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or almost $46,000 for a single person, are eligible for subsidies.

Anderson, of Planned Parenthood, said her group’s personnel have spent the summer knocking on doors in neighborhoods near their clinics in Billings, Helena, Great Falls and Missoula, and are finding that people know little about the federal law or the options it creates.

“Very few people are aware of what’s going on,” she said.

Planned Parenthood will use the grant to train its staff and perhaps hire people to be navigators, prepared to talk with patients who have questions about insurance, Anderson said.

“We see upward of 20,000 patients a year, most of them uninsured, so we’re a perfect fit for a navigator grant,” she said. “When our doors are open, there will always be a navigator available.”

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Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at

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