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SC groups getting $2M for health care law outreach

Seanna Adcox, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Three South Carolina groups are receiving a total of $2 million to help South Carolinians sign up for insurance under the federal health care law, the Obama administration announced Thursday.

They are among 105 groups sharing $67 million in states where the federal government will run online insurance marketplaces, said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Nationwide, the agency is doling out $13 million more for Navigator grants than it said it would earlier this year. South Carolina's chunk of that additional money is nearly $742,000. Navigators must complete a 20- to 30-hour training program developed by the federal government and pass an exam to be certified.

The largest grant for outreach in South Carolina, of more than $1.2 million, goes to DECO Recovery Management, which is working with the Benefit Bank of South Carolina for marketing and education across the state's 46 counties. The Columbia-based Cooperative Ministry is receiving $508,300 to target uninsured people in eight counties. The Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce is receiving $234,100.

The grants were apportioned to states based on their numbers of uninsured residents. The federal agency says more than 725,000 South Carolinians are uninsured.

The grant winners announced Thursday bring the amount the federal government's spending to market the law in South Carolina to $4.3 million. Last month, the federal agency announced $2.4 million awarded to 19 health centers statewide. The centers, which serve uninsured and underinsured residents, expect to use the money to hire 45 people and help more than 41,000 residents enroll in health plans, according to the agency's July 10 release.

The federal law requires people without health coverage to pay a penalty starting Jan. 1. Beginning in October, people can sign up for insurance through online marketplaces called exchanges. The idea is that residents can compare coverage terms and prices and then use federal subsidies, if they qualify, to help cover the cost of a policy.

Like other Republican-led states that oppose the law, South Carolina is not running an exchange, leaving that responsibility to the federal government.

Earlier this month, the state Insurance Department announced that it expects new federal requirements to increase individual rates next year by an average of 50 percent to 70 percent. The prediction comes from a Cabinet agency of Gov. Nikki Haley, who used the numbers to continue criticizing the law.

Director Ray Farmer said the predictions are based on his agency's review of carriers' proposed insurance plans for the federal exchange. But the exact plans and prices won't be known until they become available online Oct. 1. The agency's review also doesn't consider federal subsidies that could offset residents' out-of-pocket costs.