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Miami-Dade lawmakers want navigator grants redistributed

State Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, were none too pleased with the way the federal government divvied up the grants for healthcare navigators.

More of the money, they said, should have gone to organizations in Miami-Dade.

The grants will enable nonprofit organizations to train "navigators," the volunteers who will help people enroll in the new health insurance marketplaces.

At a town hall meeting last week, Garcia and Rodriguez said they would try to get more federal money for Miami-based organizations -- or lobby to have the grants redistributed. 

There's not much they can do from Tallahassee. The navigator grants were awarded by the federal government, with state officials having virtually no input.

In a follow-up interview this week, Garcia said he would make his case to Washington.  

"I'm going to get engaged with the South Florida Health Council and the folks from Jackson to see if we can put some pressure on the [federal] Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to revisit this," Garcia said. "If you look at it, it makes no sense. Miami-Dade has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents, but the fewest number of navigators."

Convincing the feds to redistribute the grant money won't be easy.

"The navigator applications went through a vetting process with a panel of judges following specific rules," CMS regional administrator Renard Murray said. "I don't see how it would be possible to change anything."

The federal government awarded about $8 million in grants to groups planning to do outreach in Florida. More than half went to Florida Covering Kids & Families, a community group based out of the University of South Florida that will deploy navigators in select communities across the state.

At least two of the other nine recipients in Florida will do work in Miami-Dade.

The National Hispanic Council on Aging received $646,825.50 to do outreach in Miami and Dallas.

The Miami-based Epilepsy Foundation of Florida received $637,686 for its efforts statewide. But according to CEO Karen Basha Egozi, "the bulk of our investment will be in Miami-Dade."

-- KATHLEEN McGRORY AND PATRICIA BORNS

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