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
California, 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
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
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
"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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