HHS Awards $103 Million in Obamacare Grants to Local Community Groups to Curb Health-Care Costs

By Christopher Goins | September 28, 2011 | 5:50 PM EDT

Harold Koh, asst. secretary of Health and Human Services (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Over 60 local governments and community organizations will receive $103 million in money under the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare -- to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce chronic diseases and health disparities.

The money, which was awarded Tuesday through the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Community Transformation Grants program, will ultimately to to  curb health-care costs

“If we are serious about stemming the tide of U.S. health-care costs, we must increase our investment in prevention,” said Harold Koh, assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, in a telephone conference call.

He continued: “We must invest in policies and programs that address health disparities and help people be healthier. And not just deliver medical care to people after they get got sick.”

The funds will go to 61 communities and community organizations with both limited experience in disease reduction efforts and with a proven record of success.

Community Transformation Grants (CTG) programs, created by the Affordable Care Act, aim at the community-level to reduce chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

“With grant funding, states and communities will design, develop and implement strategies that reduce tobacco use, prevent obesity, and promote the use of effective clinical prevention services such as blood pressure control in order to reduce health disparities,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The grants come in two varieties: capacity awards and implementation awards.

“Capacity-building grants are going to states and communities that have limited experience in implementing the community change activities that are required in Community Transformation grants” said Ursula Bauer, director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

“Implementation level grants are going to states and communities with track records of success that are ready to undertake expanded activities to improve community health and reduce health disparities,” she continued.

Capacity awards -- given to 26 organizations that generally have limited experience in disease reduction efforts -- help organizations with laying down the foundation for “sustainable community prevention efforts” -- i.e., healthy lifestyle promotion.

Some of the capacity award recipients include Austen BioInnovation Institute (Ohio) $500,000, Confederated Tribes of The Chehalis Reservation (Washington) $498,663, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, $ 500,000, My Brother's Keeper Inc. (Mississippi) ($500,000).

Capacity-building work involves supporting and encouraging healthy lifestyles

Implementation awards—with funding ranging between $500,000 to $10 million depending on the size and project—are given to 35 organizations that generally have a record of success.

Some of the implementation recipients of the funds include Texas Department of State Health Services ($10,000,000), Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ($9,848,011), University Health Services, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison ($4,695,253).

At least 20 percent of funds will be directed to rural communities.

Recipients are expected to work toward two complementary goals.

“Implementation of broad policy and environmental changes that reach across the entire jurisdiction and effect the higher population and narrowing gaps in health outcomes across population subgroups,” Bauer said.

“Reducing health disparities and advancing health equity are core principles of community transformation grants,” Bauer continued.

Special focus will be given to people who have “the greatest burden of death, disability, and suffering from chronic diseases,” Bauer said. That includes “lower income populations, racial and ethnic minorities, people with mental health conditions and other disabilities, members of the LGBT communities, and people in underserved geographical areas,” Bauer said.

Success will be measured by changes in weight, nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use and emotional well-being.

Similar initiatives have been launched recently. The HHS Million Hearts initiative, announced arlier this month, aims to reduce health care costs by preventing one million heart attacks over the next five years.