ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
The Liberal Area Coalition for Families is one of six agencies across Kansas that has contracted with Thrive Allen County to bring the Connecting Kids to Coverage grant to communities throughout the state.
Thrive Allen County is the largest and most prominent rural health advocacy organization in Kansas, and recently the group received a major award from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase health care coverage for children, families and pregnant individuals.
The grant is expected to provide nearly $1.5 million over a three-year period. Connecting Kids to Coverage will support outreach and assistance for enrolling children, families and pregnant individuals in Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
As a subgrantee of the grant, LACF Director Sarah Mersdorf-Foreman said her agency received two separate grants under Connecting Kids to Coverage.
“One of them is the Navigator grant, which will help with people who are eligible for Medicaid,” she said. “There is the Health Families and Kids grant, which is eligibility for other safety net services.”
LACF Community Health Worker Julie Foster said with the Public Health Emergency coming to an end, those who have been receiving benefits have to update their information to avoid letting benefits lapse. She added letters will be sent via mail, but state mail is not forwarded.
“They haven’t officially set a date, but we will be helping those receiving benefits renew and update their information,” she said. “We need to make sure everybody has the correct information sent to them. We can help with that process as well.”
As for the number of people the LACF money can help, Mersdorf-Foreman said that goal is wide open.
“We would of course like to help as many families as possible and get the word out as far as we can,” she said. “I would say the sky is the limit as far as the number of families we can help.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said navigators have already begun helping with Medicaid applications, and open enrollment ends Jan. 15, 2023. She added she believes the grant money will help families immensely.
“If you have tended to have the safety net of health insurance, I think it gives family a lot of piece of mind that if something happens, they’re covered, and if families are struggling for whatever reason, between jobs or just having trouble making ends meet, this is just a way to provide that extra layer of security, piece of mind for families,” she said.
Foster said Liberal currently has no other agencies giving assistance with completing forms.
“A lot of times, that can be overwhelming for families to get a packet of paperwork with questions they might not understand fully, and they don’t feel comfortable completing it,” she said. “That would be another resource families can have to have assistance through the whole process where they can understand it in their own language, and they can have somebody there with them help them complete it. We work with a lot of families who don’t know how to read or write, so the need is definitely there to have additional support.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said LACF does have two bilingual navigators to assist with the process.
“We’re there to help in Spanish and English and provide that extra service that they can speak in the language they know to help get the application filled out,” she said.
Foster said information can be updated by calling the KanCare Clearing House at 800-792-4884 or online at kancare.ks.gov.
“We have that Web site, or they can call LACF to speak with a specialist,” she said.
Mersdorf-Foreman said coalition leaders will likewise have eligibility lined out for other safety net services like USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women Infants and Children (WIC).
“The goal is to connect kids and families with the services they need to be as healthy as possible,” she said.
Mersdorf-Foreman said this is the coalition’s first year as a subgrantee, but the services provided by CMS have been in place for a number of years.
“It is the first time the coalition has taken on the role of navigator and benefit specialist,” she said.
To connect with a navigator, call LACF’s main number at 620-655-7177, which Foster said will connect callers to LACF’s Kathleen Alonso.
“She will route the call to one of us who will schedule a time that works for the family,” Foster said. “We’ll go from there.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said coalition navigators will work individuals through the application process with any needed documents and making sure applications are filled out correctly, and set times will also be available for applicants.
“For example, in Liberal, we’ll be at the library,” she said. “If people can’t call to make an appointment, we’ll have set times where people are there to help them.”
Mersdorf-Foreman said LACF has one main number for people to call to avoid confusion.
“If they just call that number, they’ll be routed to where they need to get to,” she said.