Sept. 16—All hospitals should obtain federal training to help uninsured people enroll in either an insurance marketplace plan or Medicaid coverage under the healthcare overhaul, federal and hospital advocates said Monday.

Mandy Cohen, M.D., senior advisor to the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), joined the leaders of the three largest hospital advocacy organizations in a Sept. 16 webcast to urge all hospitals to enroll in the certified application counselor (CAC) program. The CAC program provides training to organizations so that their employees or contractors can provide in-person assistance to applicants enrolling for coverage under the Affordable Care Act using the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services database that determines eligibility, according to Cohen.

“We really want every hospital to have this certification,” Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said about the CAC program.

Enrollment begins Oct. 1 for coverage under either private plans sold on state health insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, or through most Medicaid programs in states that have opted to expand their eligibility.

The CAC program has already accepted applications from “thousands” of hospitals in the 33 states with federally run or “partnership” exchanges, according to Cohen, and “hundreds” have received approval, so far. The CAC program does not provide funding for enrollment activities, unlike the navigator program, for which the CMS has issued grants. The Obama administration announced in August that it was distributing $67 million in navigator grants to more than 100 organizations, including some hospitals and health systems.

But the importance of the CAC program was repeatedly emphasized by hospital advocates Monday.

“We have worked for decades to get a healthcare system worthy of this nation,” said Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association. “If we have it and don’t help people to access it, that would be an utter catastrophe.”

There is no deadline for hospitals to apply under the CAC program. However, Cohen urged hospitals to apply in time to provide the applicant assistance during the inaugural six-month open enrollment period because it will provide much more time to enroll patients than the expected two-and-a-half-month open enrollments in subsequent years.

Cynthia Taueg, vice president, ambulatory and community health services at St. John Providence Health System in Warren, Mich., a CAC designee, said that the in-person assistance allowed by the certification program was critical—despite creation of CMS’s high-profile online enrollment system.

“Many of our folks are very uncomfortable going to the internet,” Taueg said about the communities surrounding her health system. “So we have to work with them in a one-on-one basis.”

Publication Date: Monday, September 16, 2013