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Community Foundations Join Forces to Support Health Safety-Net Transformation 

Collaborative funding will amplify the impact of foundation resources granted to research and design an enrollment system for Montgomery Cares, the health safety-net program that serves Montgomery County residents who are not eligible for state or federal health coverage.

Silver Spring, Md. — In an exceptional display of pro-active funding, a cohort of foundations that fund in Montgomery County has joined forces to support the design and implementation of an enrollment system for Montgomery Cares—the program that provides access to health care for 30,000 low-income Montgomery County residents who are not eligible for state or federal health coverage. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is transforming health care across the nation. These changes provide a tremendous opportunity to align county-funded health access programs like Montgomery Cares with federal and state health reform initiatives that promote efficient and effective health care systems. 

With leadership from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation (HIF) a group of funders including The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the Consumer Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, as well as the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, has come together to form the Montgomery County Funder Collaborative, an informal body that will enable foundations to amplify their impact by jointly funding projects. The group collaborates to consider the merits of a proposed project, and each participating foundation can choose to provide a small grant to support the project.

The first project to be funded through this collaborative approach is the design of a comprehensive enrollment system for Montgomery Cares. Founded in 2005, Montgomery Cares is a public-private partnership composed of 12 independent primary care clinics, five hospitals, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Primary Care Coalition (PCC). Long before the expansion of Medicaid or launch of insurance marketplaces created under the ACA, Montgomery County provided health care access for low-income, uninsured residents through Montgomery Cares.

While the ACA has extended access to health care to many, 60,000 low-income Montgomery County residents are ineligible to participate in Medicaid or the subsidized health plans offered through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and will continue to rely on Montgomery Cares for much needed health services. Over the past several years the PCC and its partners have implemented significant steps to strengthen the network of safety-net clinics. “Developing a comprehensive enrollment system for Montgomery Cares is the next vital step in harmonizing Montgomery Cares with state and federal initiatives and transforming Montgomery Cares to function more effectively in this changing environment,” said Steve Galen, President and CEO of the Primary Care Coalition.

Currently, eligibility screening for Montgomery Cares is performed at each of the participating clinics, and there is no consistent process for screening individuals to determine if they are eligible for Medicaid or Qualified Health Plans now available through the Maryland Health Connection. With the $35,000 in joint funding from the foundation community, the Montgomery Cares partners will work together to explore different enrollment models and research the best design for a Montgomery Cares enrollment system. Once implemented the enrollment system will integrate with eligibility screening and enrollment for federal, state, and local health and social service programs to streamline the process. The ultimate goal is to improve consumer experiences and ensure that everyone receives the most appropriate health benefit for his/her situation. 

“MCDHHS along with PCC, the participating clinics and our Foundation partners has been leading an effort to map the next enhancement of Montgomery Cares,” said Uma Ahluwalia, director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. “These changes are aimed at being responsive to new ACA requirements and current best practices. As a key funder, county government has a significant stake in a favorable outcome of this redesign.”  The partner organizations involved in Montgomery Cares are committed to providing a strong and viable safety-net health system in the community; a system capable of serving the uninsured and offering health care to newly insured residents regardless of their income, race, ethnicity, or country of origin. 

Over the years, the local funding community has made significant investments in the Montgomery County safety-net. “Just like our grantees, we as funders have a far greater impact collectively than independently. We see this type of collaboration as the first of many as we explore opportunities for supporting this transformative work and continue to invest in high-quality, comprehensive, and equitable health care for Montgomery County residents,” said Crystal Townsend, President of the Healthcare Initiative Foundation.

Our History

The Healthcare Initiative Foundation was established as a 509(a)(3) grantmaking organization in 1973 as the Suburban Hospital Association (Md.) Foundation. In 1980 the scope of giving broadened and accordingly the name changed to the Suburban Maryland Health Foundation. The current name, Healthcare Initiative Foundation, dates from 2002. The Foundation operated anonymously until 2007, when the board hired the Foundation's first staff person to facilitate the grantmaking and begin to build a public presence. On July 1, 2012, the Healthcare Initiative Foundation transitioned from a 509(a)(3) charitable support organization to a 501(c)(3) private foundation.

Benefiting from a generally robust economy and exercising careful stewardship, the board of trustees progressively grew the Foundation's endowment distributing over $78 million since its inception. The Foundation has funded an array of organizations and activities each year, while retaining an exclusive focus on improving healthcare for residents of Montgomery County, Maryland.

Effective on July 1, 2012, the Healthcare Initiative Foundation (HIF) became a 501(c)(3) private foundation. This establishes the Foundation’s new designation as an independent entity after having been a charitable support organization for almost 40 years. As part of our transition and continuing commitment to healthcare in Montgomery County, HIF provided Suburban Hospital with a major gift in support of their current capital campaign. The Board of Trustees are eager to continue support for 501(c)(3) healthcare nonprofits that offer solutions to improve the quality and delivery of healthcare for residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, particularly programs and services that protect the safety-net for vulnerable citizens.

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Crystal Carr Townsend, President 

*The Healthcare Initiative Foundation is an equal opportunity/ADA compliant employer.