Navigator grants

The federal government awarded grant money this week to three groups that now can hire staff to help South Carolinians figure out how to navigate the new online health insurance marketplace.

Aptly, these new hires are called navigators.

Federal law prohibits navigators from steering residents to a particular insurance plan or company. Instead, their role is intended to help people figure out how the process works.

Enrollment through the marketplace opens Oct. 1.

The grant money to hire South Carolina navigators was awarded to:

DECO Recovery Management, Hyattsville, Md., which is working with the Benefit Bank of South Carolina for marketing and education.

Anticipated grant amount: $1.2 million

The Cooperative Ministry, Columbia, S.C.

Anticipated grant amount: $508,313

Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce.

Anticipated grant amount: $234,099

The federal government is scheduled to open health insurance enrollment online through a new insurance marketplace on Oct. 1, but Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said Thursday he is doubtful that actually will happen.

“They are still writing in the pages (of the regulations), so how, pray tell, are they going to know how all that stuff works together?” Scott asked. “I don’t know how you can get someone to figure all this out between now and Oct. 1.”

Scott spoke at a breakfast meeting about the Affordable Care Act hosted by McLaughlin Smoak & Clark, a benefits consulting company, at the Harbour Club in Charleston. About 100 members of the local business community attended.

Congress is in summer recess through Sept. 8.

Scott said the health care reform act, signed into law in 2010, will probably not be fully repealed, but said, “the chance of partial repeal is very high.”

Scott estimated his staff has fielded at least 1,000 calls and questions about the federal legislation in recent months.

John Supra, deputy director of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program in the state, also spoke at the event about health care reform.

“I really do believe that it all working (on Oct. 1) is very unlikely,” Supra said.

Unlike some other states, South Carolina leaders chose not to establish the state’s own health insurance marketplace, but residents here will be able to shop for a plan through the federal website, www.healthcare.gov starting Oct. 1.

Individuals who earn between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will qualify for subsidies to help pay for a plan. The 2013 federal poverty level is $11,490 for a single adult in most states.

Adrian Grimes, director of communications for Consumer’s Choice Health Plan, said the subsidies will actually make health insurance more affordable for many people than ever before.

“That’s the part that was missing from this conversation,” said Grimes, who attended the meeting with Scott and Supra on Thursday.

Coverage for the insurance plans offered through the federal marketplace begins Jan. 1. Enrollment is open through March.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.