Groups tout outreach behind Ohio health sign-ups

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Groups in Ohio that helped enroll residents in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace said Friday that in-person assistance was key to getting people to successfully sign up, particularly minorities.

Final enrollment figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 154,668 Ohioans signed up for coverage under President Barack Obama's health law. The final figure fell short of the administration's target of 190,000 by March 31, a goal set before the insurance marketplaces opened.

Having counselors available to residents at community colleges, churches and other facilities in Ohio helped bolster enrollment, said Trey Daly, state director of the national nonprofit Enroll America's sign-up campaign in Ohio. He and other groups involved in enrollment efforts told reporters on a conference call that such help was especially effective among minorities and harder-to-reach groups, such as younger Ohioans.

Federal data shows that among Ohio residents who voluntarily disclosed their race or ethnicity, 81 percent were white, 11.5 percent were African-Americans and about 2 percent Latino. A third of those who selected plans are under age 35.

The Republican-led Ohio took a hands-off approach in promoting the federal marketplace.

Instead, state officials relied on providers, health centers, food banks and other groups who were awarded federal grants to get the word out about the law to the more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans.

Many residents felt comfortable starting their applications online, said Sarah Hackenbracht, executive director of the Cuyahoga Health Access Partnership. The nonprofit helps connect residents in northeast Ohio to health care.

But Hackenbracht said that when it came time for people to select a plan, "they really wanted that secondary, trusted source to have a conversation with them to make sure that they were making the right decision."

Supporters hoped to train additional volunteers in churches, faith-based groups and other organizations for the next enrollment period, which is scheduled to run Nov. 15 through Feb. 15.

Enroll America plans to keep its offices in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati staffed through the 2015 enrollment period, Daly said.

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