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Centers expected to help Americans find affordable health insurance Posted: July 22nd, 2013

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Consumers confused by their health insurance coverage options may be able to find help nearby. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced $150 million in grants is going to nearly 1,200 health centers nationwide. The centers are expected to help families evaluate their options for affordable health insurance.

"Investing in health centers means that people in neighborhoods and towns across the country have one more resource to help them understand their insurance options and enroll in affordable coverage," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a written statement.

Health centers in all 50 states

The government funding goes to health centers in all 50 states, and HHS says it expects the centers to hire an additional 2,900 workers to assist families searching for low-cost health insurance. Currently, the centers serve an estimated 21 million people each year.

The grants come on the heels of a newly launched health reform website and 24-hour call center. Both the website and call center are intended to serve as resources for consumers who are weighing their medical insurance options. In October 2013, the website will also serve as the home for health insurance exchanges which will allow many families the opportunity to buy subsidized health insurance plans online.

Health insurance mandate in 2014

Government efforts to provide more health insurance resources for consumers tie into the upcoming health insurance mandate. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, virtually every U.S. resident will be required to maintain health insurance coverage in 2014.

With the Census Bureau reporting 15.7 percent of the population - nearly 49 million people - was uninsured in 2011, a number of families may be shopping for health insurance for the first time.

To make the process easier, health insurance plans being sold on the exchanges will be categorized into four tiers: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The tiers correspond to the level of coverage offered by a plan. Bronze plans will pay for 60 percent of the cost of covered services while platinum medical insurance will cover 90 percent of the price for plan benefits.

Although attempts have been made to simplify the health insurance buying process, it is still anticipated some consumers may struggle with understanding their choices. That concern is why the health centers may take on increased importance.

"Having trained, face-to-face assistance in enrollment from trusted resources at local health centers means that more people will get the help they need," said Mary Wakefield, Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, in a written statement.