With the program known as "Obamacare" only weeks away from its key launch date, preparation is in motion across the country as organizations try to make sure the American public is clear on the implication of the new approach to health care.
On Tuesday, more than 60 civic, religious and political community leaders gathered at the Renaissance Hotel at North Hills to kick off a statewide community initiative to educate North Carolinians about the Affordable Care Act.
Many of the people at the luncheon Monday afternoon read "Urban Call," a publication focused on helping minorities and the elderly understand how the ACA can benefit them. The idea is that they can go back to their communities and explain the information in small forums.
"Our church has reached out to the elderly community," said Pastor Vernell Alston of Wings of Eagles Christian Church. "And many of them are lacking information."
Coming Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m.: WNCN's special look at the Affordable Care Act
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina hired Segmented Marketing Service to educate consumers about the Affordable Care Act. The idea is that local ambassadors, with an emphasis on Forsyth, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, will partner with community leaders representing churches and civic organizations to host more than 60 community health forums. The forums will cover topics like qualifications for a subsidy and preventative health information.
"We'll be telling them how they can sign up to get a subsidy, who's qualified to get subsidies and who's not," said Sandra Miller Jones, founder of Segmented Marketing. "Any type of questions they may have."
The event in Raleigh Monday is typical of a national effort to explain the law to Americans. The Associated Press reported that more than 100 nonprofits and related organizations, which specialize in everything from running soup kitchens to organizing farm workers, have been recruited by the federal government to sign up "navigators" to help the 30 million uninsured people who can now gain coverage.
Nationally, many of the groups have little expertise in health insurance. And the timeline for training the workers is tight. According to the new health law, people can begin shopping among the new policies on Oct. 1. The enrollment period lasts six months. Coverage begins in January.
"I think there's a lot of concern about whether, with all these state requirements, they are going to be ready to go," Katie Keith, a former research professor at Georgetown University, who has been tracking the heath care legislation, told the AP. "You want people out there educating consumers."
Deploying the guides for the uninsured is one of the first hurdles for the new health system as it transitions from an abstract political debate in Washington to a real-life process in communities. It is one of the steps government officials are concerned about as critics warn that the Affordable Care Act could become a "train wreck."
If the system works as federal officials hope, more than half of the nation's uninsured, which amount to 15 percent of the population, will get coverage.
In Texas, with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, eight groups are receiving a total of $10.8 million and plan to train more than 150 paid workers and volunteers. Tim McKinney, CEO of United Way of Tarrant County, which got the largest grant, said many people without insurance are looking for information.
In Mississippi, workers will go into rural areas without Internet access to help people with the enrollment and policy-shopping process, which is done online.
"When Oct. 1 rolls around, we're going to be ready to rock 'n' roll," said the Rev. Michael O. Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando, Miss.
In 17 states, navigators have additional hoops to jump through because of new state laws affecting the federal health care law, such as required background checks for the workers.
Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have also called on some of the assisting groups to explain how consumers will be protected when they speak with a navigator. The Republicans' letter sets a Sept. 13 deadline for the groups to produce documents.
"This request threw us for a loop quite honestly," said Plese of the Arizona health center group. "We haven't even drawn down any funds from the grant."
Will there be enough time for the hiring and training?
"It has to be enough time," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a consumer health group involved in the training. "We have to do what we have to do."