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Health care enrollment begins in Ohio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's 1.5 million uninsured residents can start shopping for health insurance on the marketplace that's a centerpiece of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. But some organizations that received federal money to hire people to walk applicants through the process say they will not be ready to help for weeks.

Ohio is leaving it to the federal government to run the state's health insurance marketplace and isn't promoting the program that launched on Tuesday.

The online insurance marketplaces, also called exchanges, were having trouble with the volume of consumers on the first day of the six-month open enrollment period. Ohio's exchange site at one point had a message that said the system was down.

Consumers have until the end of March to choose a health care plan to avoid tax penalties, but they must sign up by mid-December if they want coverage by Jan. 1.

Five organizations in the state are getting about $3 million from the federal government to help people sign up for insurance and get the word out about the insurance marketplaces. State law bans those workers, called navigators, from offering advice on which benefit plan is best suited for someone.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks received almost $2 million to hire and train between 30 to 40 outreach workers and volunteers.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the food bank association's executive director, said her group is waiting for the state to certify its workers who already have been hired and gone through background checks. She hopes those workers will be in place between mid-October and the beginning on November.

Many applicants will need help because the registration process requires gathering financial and medical information and sorting through options, she said.

"A lot of this terminology is going to be new for folks," Hamler-Fugitt said.


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