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Ohio Organizations Gear Up For Another Round Of Obamacare Outreach

President Barack Obama speaks about affordable health care at an event in 2013 with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Despite controversy and a bumpy rollout, the president's signature bill enrolled more people than it had originally aimed for.
Eric Haynes
Governor's Office

As the time for open enrollment in federal health plans rolls back around, the federal government has announced a new round of grants for Ohio health insurance navigators.

Even after a bumpy start last year, the feds report more than 154,000 Ohio residents got new health plans through the Affordable Care Act marketplace between October 1, 2013 and May 31, 2014. People signed up through local health centers, food banks, libraries and churches, or just went online at home.

But Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, says the challenges in the first year went beyond tricky paperwork.

“We were dealing with Ohioans who had never had access to private health insurance before, so a lot of it was really basic health insurance literacy,” she says.

The Association just got a grant of more than $2 million for a second year of  outreach and navigator training, and two other Ohio groups received smaller federal grants for a total of $2,613,243 to be spent on navigator programs in Ohio; nationwide, grants are expected to top $60 million. These programs are particularly important in states like Ohio in which the state legislatures elected to let the federal government administer the Affordable Care Act, and thus have no state apparatus to distribute information.

Hamler-Fugitt estimates the Ohio Association of Foodbanks reached more than a million people last year with information about Obamacare through events, partnerships and a hotline, and she hopes to top that this year. She estimates a total of more than 1.3 million Ohio residents are uninsured, and the organization aims aim to reach 85 percent of that population.

A new concern for the certified health navigators will be understanding how health insurance subsidies actually get reconciled when people file taxes. Federal subsidies for the health plans are technically tax credits, so April will bring whole new piles of paperwork.

Open enrollment on the marketplace starts again November 15, but those who go through significant life changes like moving or changing jobs may be eligible to enroll between open enrollment periods. People whose incomes are low enough to qualify them for Medicaid can apply anytime through the state website.

Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.  

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