Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, announced the recipients of $37 million in education and outreach grants on Tuesday. It's a critical step in the drive toward the full implementation of the federal health law on Jan. 1. "This program now belongs to California ... and to Californians, and we have to make it work," said Dr. Robert Ross, a Covered California board member.
The grants were awarded to 48 lead organizations, which will be supported by 226 community partner groups. They will focus on education and outreach to the 5.3 million Californians the exchange seeks to enroll, with an estimated 2.6 million of those people eligible for subsidies to help them afford insurance. Five of the recipients will target their outreach to small businesses.
Californians will be able to shop for insurance on the new marketplace starting Oct. 1, with coverage going into effect on Jan. 1. Most people must have insurance or pay a penalty. In 2014 the penalty is $95 per person or 1 percent of income (whichever is greater), and the penalty rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income (again, whichever is greater) by 2016.
Many of the 5.3 million outreach workers will try to reach are currently uninsured or often unfamiliar with insurance as a product. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, acknowledged the significant outreach work in front of them. "What it's going to take on Jan. 1, 2014, is partnership," he said in a press conference. "It's a huge task, but it's a task that's doable."
The grant recipients are charged with outreach and education only, not enrolling people into a plan. Actual enrollment will come later. Much of "what we're doing now is putting fertilizer out there," Lee said. "We're starting to till the soil to get people educated, so when it comes to open enrollment we can harvest huge enrollment."