In January next year, all Americans are expected to have some level of health coverage, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. In preparation for this next phase of health reform, health insurance exchanges, new online marketplaces where small businesses and uninsured individuals can shop for health coverage, will start enrolling patients beginning Oct. 1.
As the deadlines approach, national surveys point to a major problem. Large numbers of people who will need to participate in the exchanges are unaware or have little understanding of the requirements of the complex law and how the changes will affect them. This makes it imperative to mount intensive campaigns of public information within states and to provide the clear and competent assistance those shopping for insurance will need to navigate the new marketplace.
Ohio, unfortunately, is among 33 states that have left it to the federal government to create the state exchange. Still, the responsibility remains to do everything possible to ease the path to affordable coverage in the exchanges. Last week, the federal government announced a $54 million grant program, opening the application process in states where it will operate the exchanges.
The grants are to help train exchange “navigators,” individuals, nonprofit organizations or private companies that, among other things, will provide accurate information to help consumers decide among qualified health plans. Given the magnitude of the challenge to bring consumers up to speed within a short time, the grant program is desperately needed, meager as $54 million is.