AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine agencies and community health centers are busily training workers, prepping outreach programs and finalizing advertising campaigns to reach consumers and sign them up for coverage on the exchange under the federal health care overhaul.
The exchange, or marketplace, that opens for enrollment Tuesday is a key part of President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul. Navigators and other assisters, who walk applicants through the process, say they’re expecting some bumps as enrollment gets underway, but they are well-prepared and eager to help Mainers get insured.
‘‘It’s been a time crunch, but we had a good plan, and we will be ready for Oct. 1,’’ said Jake Grindle, health services navigator for Western Maine Community Action, one of the two Maine groups awarded federal grants to hire navigators who can explain the various plans being offered on Maine’s federally run exchange.
More than 80 navigators will be based out of eight community action agencies throughout the state, Grindle said. They’ll be available for one-on-one appointments and be stationed at sign-up events at public libraries and school computer labs to field questions about the exchange.
A navigator with the Maine Lobsterman’s Association will focus on getting lobstermen signed up for insurance. The group says health coverage is essential because of the high risk of injury in the industry, the economic backbone of many of Maine’s coastal communities.
The state estimates that as many as 250,000 Maine residents could use the exchange, including about 130,000 uninsured, but anticipates that many will choose plans off the exchange or remain uninsured.
Bjorn Streubel, lead navigator at Waldo Community Action Partners, said he isn’t expecting a flood of calls to begin Tuesday. Instead, navigators will have to overcome initial resistance and uncertainty about the new system, he said. To do that, they’ll post fliers with basic information about the health care law at town halls, churches and schools and put on a monthly television show.
Meanwhile, the still-simmering political debate surrounding the health care law may also be a hurdle, Streubel said, as people’s opinions on the law may shape how they view navigators.
Navigators have to ensure that ‘‘people will have trust enough in a function that is basically funded by the federal government and have trust in me that I will treat their information privately and that I am unbiased as to the choices that they wish to make,’’ he said.
Unlike states that opted to run their own exchanges, Maine didn’t get federal funding for marketing or advertising. That’s meant that groups, like Maine Health Access Foundation, have had to take the lead in developing outreach campaigns to educate Mainers on the upcoming changes.
The organization has teamed up with a Portland-based advertising company and will run television advertisements, post ads on the sides of buses and use social media, said Wendy Wolf, president and CEO of the group. They’re also running a new website, Enroll207.com, where Mainers can type in their ZIP codes and find the closest navigators and other assisters.
‘‘We’re trying to do as much as we can on the typical tight Mainer budget that we all live within,’’ she said.
Because navigator grants weren’t handed out until last month, there hasn’t been much time to hire and train workers, said Karen Turgeon, who is overseeing the navigator program for The Opportunity Alliance in Portland, which plans to have up to 13 navigators trained in the coming weeks.
Libby Cummings, the outreach and enrollment specialist for the Portland Community Health Center — one of the several health centers that got federal grants this summer to boost staff for the new health care law — said the biggest challenge now is the uncertainty, like not knowing how long it will take to sign people up.
‘‘There are a lot of things that need to come together,’’ she said. ‘‘But I’m very impressed that such a huge program is making such good progress.’’
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