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USM Lands $400,000 Grant from U.S. Dept. Health and Human Services
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University of Southern Mississippi

Setting-up an office, hiring qualified people and getting them trained by the end of October, is keeping Professor Michael Forster busy. He's dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern Mississippi. They're partnering with the City of Hattiesburg, to enroll people for insurance in the Affordable Care Act Health Marketplace. Open enrollment begins November 1, and ends January 31.

"There's also a good bit of just consumer education that goes on related to the availability of options. There's a lot of training of people who are already working in non-profit agencies, health-related agencies," said Forster.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $400,000 grant to USM for the Navigator Project. The goal is to increase enrollment by 15 percent in the state's 24 southern counties. Kathryn Rehner, with Hattieburg's E3 Health Initiatives, say it's an expansion of an existing collaboration with the university. Through a separate grant they're educating residents about healthcare options, such as Medicaid and free prescription services. She says USM manages their data collection and it's working well. Rehner says people want coverage and gives an example of what may be available. 

"When you talk to them about affordable opportunities for healthcare and here's what would be available for you based on your income and your family size, they may end up paying $11 a month with full health coverage and a $500 deductible," said Rehner.

Kathryn Rehner says the first year they will target nine counties, including Covington, Green and Lamar. Michael Forster says the project also provides internships for USM students.