Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 24, 2013

Va. near bottom in health law outreach spending

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Only one state will spend less per capita than Virginia to promote public awareness of the new health care reform law.

According to data compiled by The Associated Press from federal and state sources, the $3.9 million in outreach spending in Virginia amounts to 49 cents per resident. Only Wisconsin, at 46 cents, is spending less per capita.

States that resisted President Barack Obama’s health overhaul generally are spending less to promote it. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the law.

Virginia opted to allow the federal government to run its health insurance marketplace, which means all the marketing money in the state is going directly from the feds to community organizations and health centers. No state money is involved.

The spending in Virginia consists of $1.4 million in federal grants to community organizations and $2.5 million in federal grants to health centers serving the poor. Some community groups, including the Virginia Organizing Project, are using their own resources for outreach efforts that are not included in the official $3.9 million total.

“About 670,000 people in Virginia are going to work without health insurance today, and Virginia Organizing is concerned that we have the second-lowest per capita spending on Affordable Care Act outreach, education and promotion,” said Thomasine Wilson, secretary of the organization’s governing board.

She said the organization, which did not apply for any of the federal money, has created flyers explaining the law and how to obtain coverage through the new insurance marketplace and is working with about 800 small businesses across the state to provide information on how they can get their employees insured.

“We want to make sure Virginians know that almost everyone must have insurance starting in 2014 or face tax penalties,” she said.

Jill Hanken, health attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said she believes Virginia’s comparatively meager spending will still be enough to get the word out.

“There is going to be lots and lots of activity,” she said. “Nearly everyone’s going to be hearing about this.”

She said it will be a couple of weeks before community organizations, including the Virginia Poverty Law Center, will learn whether their federal “Navigator” grants have been approved. Hanken declined to say how much money the center requested. She said it would be used to hire people to work out of legal services offices and community colleges to help enroll Virginians.

Community health centers also will provide application assistance.

“They’re in a great position to screen those who come to their health clinics to see if they should apply for private insurance through the market place, and whether they qualify for tax credit subsidies to help pay for it,” Hanken said.

Another factor to consider, Hanken said, is that insurers participating in the marketplace will do their own advertising.

“They want to get new customers,” she said.