An Okatie health center will help sign up uninsured residents for health insurance plans as part of the federal government's effort to implement the Affordable Care Act.
Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services received a $144,514 grant that will go toward spreading the word about the law that requires people to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
The money will used to hire one full-time employee to inform the public about the Affordable Care Act plans, and two part-time employees to help residents enroll in them, according to the health agency's chief executive officer, Roland Gardner.
The grant is part of $159 million being distributed nationwide by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. About $2.4 million was given to 19 health care centers in South Carolina.
Gaynelle Dantzler, administrative director of reimbursement plans, will spearhead the hiring and the enrollment initiative at Comprehensive Health Services. Dantzler said the health agency will make presentations about the health care plans to various organizations and groups to build awareness.
The agency plans for 2,000 to 3,000 people to see the presentations and about 1,400 of them to enroll in the health care plans.
Gardner said he and Dantzler would move quickly to fill the positions and to create the presentations, as the grant ends June 30, 2014.
Open enrollment in the health plans will begin Oct. 1 and end March 31, said S.C. Primary Health Care Association public affairs coordinator Becky Fowler.
The federal government has created a "health insurance marketplace" in South Carolina because it was one of 26 states that chose not to create a state-level system to enact the federal health care law, Fowler said.
The grants will also help people eligible for Medicaid enroll in those programs, she said.
Of the 324,000 patients who used community health centers across the state, 115,000 of them were uninsured, Fowler said.
Health and Human Services projected about 41,000 people would be enrolled in health insurance in South Carolina with the grants. Fowler called that projection "definitely doable," despite the opposition the Affordable Care Act has faced in the state.
Last month, a bill that would have prohibited the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the growth of Medicaid failed to pass the S.C. Senate. But Gov. Nikki Haley has maintained that the state will not participate in promoting or implementing the federal health insurance marketplace.
"There's a lot of negative information out there, so it's a challenge," Fowler said. "This is a historic undertaking, and we are working through it to help patients enroll. These grants are a natural fit with our mission to help people get health care."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.