The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 9, 2013

Groups race to hire, train 'Obamacare' guides

(Continued)

A small scream came from Tara McCollum Plese when she was asked whether her group, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, has hired any of the 45 workers authorized in its federal grant. "Ack! No," she said Thursday. Her group has posted a job description, she said, and is now flooded with inquiries for the positions, which pay about $15 an hour. She's since heard one worker has been hired.

Not one navigator has been hired yet under the $2 million grant obtained by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The Illinois Eye Institute, which will help with enrollment in the Chicago area, plans to train a dozen staffers for the task.

The work will be more difficult than what most other temporary employees, such as census workers, do. The navigators must listen to a family's real-world story, assess its income, and figure out eligibility for the Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor, or for new tax credits, each with its own complicated rules.

If the system works as federal officials hope, more than half of the nation's uninsured, which amount to 15 percent of the population, will get coverage.

In Texas, with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, eight groups are receiving a total of $10.8 million and plan to train more than 150 paid workers and volunteers. Tim McKinney, CEO of United Way of Tarrant County, which got the largest grant, said many people without insurance are looking for information.

In Mississippi, workers will go into rural areas without Internet access to help people with the enrollment and policy-shopping process, which is done online.

"When Oct. 1 rolls around, we're going to be ready to rock 'n' roll," said the Rev. Michael O. Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando, Miss.

In 17 states, navigators have additional hoops to jump through because of new state laws affecting the federal health care law, such as required background checks for the workers.

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