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Ohio to be hands-off in promoting health care law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio officials are taking a hands-off approach when it comes to spreading information about the federal health care law.

Health-Overhaul-Libra Sidd

Librarian Joan Limbert, left, works at her station inside the Barbara Bush Branch Library Friday, June 28, 2013, in Spring, Texas. The nation’s librarians will be recruited to help people get signed up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Up to 17,000 U.S. libraries will be part of the effort to get information and crucial computer time to the millions of uninsured Americans who need to get coverage under the law. The undertaking will be announced Sunday in Chicago at the annual conference of the American Library Association, according to federal officials who released the information early to The Associated Press. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

No social media campaigns, marketing, advertising or outreach efforts are in the works. "We don't have any plans to do those activities," said Chris Brock, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Insurance.

That means it will be left to providers, health centers, food banks and other groups to get the word out about the law to the more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans.

Government spending in Ohio on outreach and advertising for the health overhaul amounts to 53 cents per capita, according to state and federal data compiled by The Associated Press. That's much lower than other states more receptive to the law. For instance, spending is $9.23 per capita in nearby West Virginia.

Consumers can get private health insurance, subsidized by the government, through the new health insurance exchange created by the federal law. Open enrollment starts Oct. 1, and coverage takes effect in January.

Republican Gov. John Kasich opted to let the federal government run Ohio's exchange. Meanwhile, GOP leaders in the Legislature continue to weigh whether to expand the Medicaid program — another key component of President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.

The federal law requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty.

Groups such as Enroll America plan to help fill the gap in the state's outreach efforts. The coalition of health companies and advocates is training volunteers to knock on doors and speak to people at fairs and other community events. It expects to open offices in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The head of a separate Columbus-based health advocacy organization said cutting through the law's confusion will require face-to-face communication from religious groups and others who are already known to the uninsured.

"People don't believe what they hear from strangers anymore," said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio. "They are going to have to hear from people they trust."

Health centers serving the poor in Ohio will get $3.9 million in federal grants for patient outreach. The facilities expect to hire 75 additional workers, who will assist more than 84,000 people with enrollment. Washington also is providing almost $2.3 million in grants to community groups for so-called navigators, counselors trained to help people with insurance plans.

Levine's group estimates that the federal funds would support 60 to 70 navigators — fewer than one counselor per county.

"It's going to be woefully inadequate to provide navigator service for the state," she said.

The state's insurance department has said it's unclear how many navigators Ohio will have when enrollment begins.

People can sign up on their own, without using the services of a navigator, though some might prefer to have help with the process.

An estimated 524,000 Ohioans are expected to be enrolled in the insurance exchange designed for individuals by 2017, according to a report prepared for the state's insurance department.

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