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Local health centers receive more than $1M in Affordable Care Act grants.

Eleven community health centers in southwest Ohio have received more than $1 million in federal grants to help residents enroll in the state’s health insurance marketplace or health exchange, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Nationwide, a total of $150 million in grants were awarded to 1,159 health centers to help uninsured Americans enroll in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which will require most U.S. residents to obtain health insurance next year or pay a tax penalty.

The health center grants are to be used to hire outreach and eligibility assistance workers to help consumers — including the estimated 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans — learn about options available to them on the health exchanges.

Surveys show that more than three-fourths of uninsured Americans who are most likely to qualify are unaware of their coverage options on the exchanges, which will open to enrollment Oct. 1 with coverage beginning next year.

The health centers will supplement the ACA’s “navigator” program, which will also provide grants to nonprofits and other entities to help facilitate enrollment in qualified plans on federally run state health exchanges like the one in Ohio.

HHS is still accepting applications and has yet to announce navigator award winners in Ohio. They will share $2.2 million in grant money.

Navigators will be required to participate in training programs to ensure that they are prepared to assist Ohioans in how to use the exchange, but HHS so far has offered only general guidelines and not specific training standards.

“The training requirements haven’t been fully cooked yet,” said Gregg Hopkins, executive director for Community Health Centers of Greater Dayton, which received just over $99,000 in federal grants to hire and train ACA outreach workers.

“With all this stuff, the challenge for us is that the whole implementation is still a little fuzzy.”

Health centers receiving grants will be required to hire a full-time outreach worker or the equivalent combination of part-time workers dedicating at least 40 hours a week to performing the same functions as the health navigators.

“There are a lot of questions and uncertainty out there that we all have about the health care law, and our job will be to get out into the community and identify people that we should work with to get signed up,” said Dana Engle, chief executive of the Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield, which received more than $73,000 in grants to hire ACA outreach workers.

“We’ll be recruiting somebody to move into a full-time position, but these outreach positions will have to try a few different things as we try to figure out what works best and what the best methods of outreach are,” Engle said.

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