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NC nonprofit gets ACA grant after initially being passed over

A western North Carolina nonprofit was selected for a federal grant to promote the Affordable Care Act, after being initially passed over in favor of an Illinois organization in bankruptcy proceedings.

A week after federal officials announced the grants, Mountain Projects of Waynesville got notice on Sept. 16 that upon reconsideration it will receive $303,935 to conduct outreach and enrollment for subsidized health insurance.

Patsy Dowling, the group’s executive director, said she was not given an explanation for the change that restored funding to her organization.

In the original grant announcement two weeks ago, North Carolina health care advocates expressed surprise that Mountain Projects was not on the national list of groups selected to receive $60 million in federal funding. The North Carolina organization had received one-year funding for $359,750 last year to conduct insurance outreach through this fall but the grant wasn't renewed this year.

Meanwhile, Waukegan, Ill.-based R&B Solutions, was awarded a $76,795 grant for insurance outreach in North Carolina in the coming year. The group also received funding to do outreach in three other states. As part of the change that restored money to Mountain Project, R&B’s funding was canceled last week, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

R&B, which had received grants to conduct insurance outreach in four states, was defunded last week in every state where it had been approved earlier this month, according to CMS. When R&B’s grant was announced two weeks ago, Ryan Brebner, its manager of business development, said his organization’s bankruptcy proceedings were triggered by a change in federal law that cratered R&B’s student loan business but didn’t affect its general operations.

The federal grants pay for training and resources for “navigators,” who explain subsidized health insurance to the public. Navigators are typically employees of nonprofit groups that work with low-income residents.

Mountain project has seven navigators under its current grant and plans to use seven navigators under the second-year grant, Dowling said.

In a phone interview Monday, Brebner said that on Sept. 12, four days after R&B received a congratulatory email for the grant award, he received a surprise call from CMS and was told the grants were being be yanked. The feds cited a "media firestorm" blowing up in North Carolina, an apparent reference to an article in The News & Observer about the grant awards earlier this month.

Then three days later CMS notified him again, he said. This time the feds explained that R&B lost the grants because it had failed to disclose the company's bankruptcy proceedings.

Brebner said there was nothing to disclose because the bankruptcy was over.

"We've exited reorganization -- we are out of court supervision," he said. "They pulled the grant under total false accusation and lies."

R&B had planned to set up three Navigators in Carteret, Jones and Craven counties, Brebner said. He also said R&B has operated in North Carolina more than a decade, where the company contracts with hospitals to help uninsured patients find alternate sources of financing to pay their hospital bills.

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