ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia groups will receive $3.8 million so they can hire counselors to guide people seeking health insurance coverage through a new online marketplace, officials said Thursday.
The local nonprofits and other groups that received the funding must hire the new workers, train them and make sure they pass background checks and a state licensing exam by Oct. 1, when the new exchange opens for business.
Consumer advocates told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that more workers are needed to guide an estimated 900,000 people from Georgia expected to use the exchanges, part of the health care overhaul backed by President Barack Obama's administration.
"It's a huge gap that the state isn't doing anything in terms of leadership and resources," said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future. She said that states which have opted to build and run their own exchanges, such as California, had more time and funding to educate consumers about the health care law and the new insurance options it provides.
Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has been a harsh critic of the health care plan from the Democratic president. Deal decided against letting the state government run the health care exchange. He has rejected an expansion of Medicaid meant to provide coverage to more of the uninsured.
"The state doesn't administer this federal program and has played no role in its development. It's only appropriate that the federal government carry out this responsibility," Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said in a statement. "When Americans see their costs are going up, not down as promised, there should be no mixed signals about where they need to turn to seek remedies: Washington."
The exchange websites play a critical role in the health law's aim of providing affordable coverage to tens of millions of Americans. The sites will cater mainly to people who don't already get coverage at work, such as the unemployed, self-employed and students. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are creating their own exchanges. The federal government will run the exchanges in the remainder of states, including Georgia.
Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com