Ohio will enroll hundreds of thousands citizens for health care in their health care exchange. By 1st October the federal government will prepare the health care exchange in Ohio and 33 other states - which opted for federally run or partnership exchanges.
According to the federal government it will spend $54 million of public-health funds - of which Ohio's share is $2.26 million, to hire 'insurance navigators' from nonprofit groups - to educate and enroll consumers.
AdvertisementCalifornia, which runs its own exchange, plans to spend $49 million in federal dollars for "in-person" help for consumers this year and next year and $43 million more for outreach and education. California has slightly more than three times the number of Ohioans who would qualify for tax credits to help cover the cost of premiums through the exchange.
In Ohio, "it's not going to be enough money," said Kathleen Gmeiner, the director of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage, a project of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.
"Just imagine one navigator in each county. It can't even begin to meet the need that we have here in Ohio."
The federal outreach effort for the exchanges is "horribly underfunded," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, which plans to apply for funding to operate as a navigator.
In Ohio, an estimated 915,890 people are eligible for premium tax credits on the exchange, including nearly 132,000 in Franklin and contiguous counties, according to the group Families USA.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that individuals will, on average, receive annual tax credits of more than $5,000.
The tax credits will be available to uninsured individuals and families with incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. The call for education is huge, according to a nationwide survey in October funded by Enroll America. It found that78 percent of those surveyed who was uninsured lacked awareness of health-insurance options.
"It's really important that people understand that they need to prepare, and they will need to budget," Gmeiner said. "Even though they will get subsidies, it's not going to be free."
Few states running their own exchanges have got more federal support. "The navigator program will be crucial, but it's not the only help that's going to be out there," Klein said.
The Ohio Department of Insurance is waiting for more information from the federal government about its outreach plans, said spokesman Chris Brock. As for spending state funds on public awareness, Brock wrote in an email: "We see that as a responsibility of the federal government since they are running the exchange."
Gmeiner expressed concern that a bill awaiting Gov. John Kasich's signature would limit the number of navigators in Ohio. Insurance brokers and agents also are allowed to help enroll people in the exchanges.
Insurance companies have much at stake in ensuring that a large number of people sign up for coverage through the exchanges.
"For the new health-care reforms to work, there needs to be broad participation in the health-care system," particularly by the young and healthy to offset the costs of older Americans who tend to have higher medical costs, said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans.
"Knowing our health needs are being taken care of, we wouldn't have to hope every day that somebody doesn't get sick," Humbert said.
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