Ohio groups get $3M from feds to sign up uninsured

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Five organizations in Ohio will get about $3 million from the federal government to help people sign up for insurance under the new health care law, President Barack Obama’s administration announced Thursday.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks was the state’s largest recipient of the so-called navigator grants, with almost $2 million. The money will be used to hire and train between 30 to 40 outreach workers and a number of other volunteers.

Navigators will be particularly important to the law’s success in Republican-led states such as Ohio, where state officials are taking a hands-off approach to promoting the law.

Consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the government, through the new health insurance exchange created by the health law. Open enrollment starts Oct. 1, and coverage takes effect in January.

Republican Gov. John Kasich opted to let the federal government run Ohio’s exchange. And the state’s insurance department has said no advertising or outreach efforts are in the works to market the exchange.

That means it will be left to providers, health centers, food banks and other groups who were awarded the grants to get the word out about the law to the more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the food bank association’s executive director, said 42 percent of their clients have to choose between buying food, medicine or health care every day.

“We’re going to be able to help them connect to health insurance — some for the first time ever,” she said.

The network of food banks serves about 2 million Ohioans every three months.

The association plans to reach out to people through food pantries, Facebook, Twitter and a large van to be used as an office-on-wheels where people can get enrolled. They also expect to educate volunteers who will pass out brochures, hand out phone numbers and help spread information.

Jason Elchert, the food bank association’s deputy director, said the organization and its more than a dozen partners hope to reach people “where they live, work, pray and play.”

The federal law requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty.

People can sign up on their own, without using the services of a navigator, though some might prefer to have help with the process.

An estimated 524,000 Ohioans are expected to be enrolled in the insurance exchange designed for individuals by 2017, according to a report prepared for the state’s insurance department.

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