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Louisiana and Texas agencies staff up with 'Navigator' grants

Two nonprofits based in Lafayette, La., and Lufkin, Texas, are among more than 120 to receive a one-year federal grant to help people shop for health insurance premiums and understand their subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. That grant is to train and hire full-time "navigators" who provide in-person education and enrollment assistance for the healthcare marketplace that opens Oct. 1. Brian Burton is directing the $1.3 million navigator grant for the consortium of Area Health Education Centers across Louisiana.

“Our job is to get out there and explain what each one of these plans mean. Through a client-centered approach, we'll gear them toward understanding the nuances of it, but without telling them what to do or what to purchase," Burton said.

Burton expects as many as a 500,000 Louisianans will be eligible for tax subsidies with the premiums offered through the federal exchange. He’s now hiring navigators, as is Nathan Bonner across the border in Lufkin. Bonner, business director of the East Texas Behavioral Health Network, expects to hire 24 full-time, salaried navigators with his $1.1 million grant. He says the training that’s underway is very important.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion. There’s even a lot of confusion from the organizations like mine who are out there doing this activity," Bonner said. "But they are doing a very good job with this navigator training. I’m in the middle of taking it, just so I know what everybody else is responsible for.”

Bonner's navigators will be fanning out across his 75-county service region. It’s estimated more than 2.5 million Texans will be eligible for financial assistance. Both grant administrators believe their agencies are a natural fit for this grant because their nonprofits help direct people to medical assistance every day.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.