Everyone has heard about some aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), however many people are still confused about the new law. At Community Catalyst, we think Consumer Assistance Programs (CAPs) are vital to ensuring people understand what the changing health care system means for them, and will help people get clear, accurate information about their health care. The ACA set aside $30 million in 2010 to provide grants for state CAPs and ombudsman programs, and last week the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (OCIIO) released the grant guidelines. Today on Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog, one of our senior policy analysts, Christine Barber, explains some of the provisions of the guidelines:

-The grant criteria take steps to ensure that the selected programs are independent. In particular, we are happy to see that the guidelines clearly welcome states to contract with non-profit organizations to provide consumer assistance.

-CAPs must assist people with all types of coverage and provide assistance that is culturally appropriate. In addition, programs must collect data about any problems and questions, which we hope will provide real-time, on-the-ground information about what’s working and what’s not. Regular feedback to state and local policymakers can help improve health reform implementation.

-Each state is eligible for one grant award. Therefore, it is important that states know about this grant program, so consumers can get help, no matter their zip code.

We applaud the guidelines, and have created a summary with the Community Service Society to further explain the grant criteria. Check out the rest of Barber’s post here, or read the full grant guidelines. Applications are due September 10.

— Christine Lindberg, Communications Associate