Yesterday marked an important victory for health consumers and consumer advocates as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced nearly $30 million in grants to consumer assistance programs (CAPs) in 35 states, four territories and the District of Columbia.

Community Catalyst has, throughout our history, championed consumer involvement in health care. CAPs are critical to making consumer involvement effective, and as such was one of the primary features of health care reform that we worked hard to see succeed.

The federal funds to create CAPs will establish a range of essential services for consumers to educate them about the new law, aide them with enrollment in health care plans and help them navigate their care options. CAPs are also required to provide feedback to policymakers about any problems with existing laws and regulations. For these reasons, Community Catalyst sees CAPs as a way of linking consumers to the health care system and a vital ingredient to the success of the Affordable Care Act.

While the grants are awarded to states, many will partner with non-profit organizations to provide this assistance, and we continue to urge states to work with consumer advocacy organizations, even in an advisory and oversight role. Community Catalyst has seen the proven consumer assistance work of organizations like Community Service Society of New York and Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAHC) guide thousands of consumers through the health care process, and know how vital this assistance is to consumers.

In fact, Joe Ditré, executive director of Maine CAHC and a Community Catalyst board member, was recognized by HHS and was one of the featured speakers at yesterday’s press conference announcing the grant awards. He spoke about how CAPs can help all sectors of a community from consumers to health care providers, businesses and insurers. Maine CAHC will contract through their state grant to strengthen its current consumer assistance program.

As many consumers remain confused about how the ACA will affect them, CAPs are one tool to clear up this confusion and educate individuals about changes in health care. The support these programs provide, from outreach to the newly insured to help filling out paperwork, is vital to the success of health reform. And, importantly, the actual impact of these grants will be felt on the ground where individuals and their families will get real help.

— Christine Lindberg, Communications Associate