Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Under the Affordable Care Act, state and federally run insurance exchanges will soon be opening.
President Barack Obama's sweeping health care legislation, signed into law in March 2010, has seen its share of opposition in our state. South Carolina's version of the health insurance exchanges mandated in the law are scheduled to open Oct. 1.
Gov. Nikki Haley chose not to operate a state-run exchange, so the federal government will run in its place.
Ahead of that Oct. 1 deadline, a group of midlands organizations are ratcheting up their efforts to help people understand their options.
"We definitely know 'Obamacare' is not what we need in South Carolina," State Senator Katrina Shealy said at a press conference on Tuesday. Shealy is one of many lawmakers in the state who have voiced their staunch opposition to the health care bill.
"It's definitely not working," Shealy said. "It's going to ruin small business. It's going to ruin all business in South Carolina."
Many busniess owners have stood with lawmakers in opposing the law.
"It's hard for me to make my plans for next year," said Fred Price, owner of Ace Auto Glass. His business operates three locations in the Town of Lexington, Irmo, and Columbia, according to their website.
"I've got employees who have been with me for over 30 years and i certainly need to take care of them, but the costs are escalating way too high," Price said at the same press conference.
But on the other side, an alliance of supporters are mounting an effort to help those who need insurance in South Carolina receive it through the insurance exchange.
The exchanges, according to advocates, are being set in place to allow insurance providers to compete for consumers.
The collaborative insurance education group known as the Health Insurance Education Cooperative (HIEC), was formed from three entities coming together to support registration efforts.
It is formed by the Cooperative Ministry, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, and the South Carolina Progressive Network. Together they'ff be using $508,300 in federal money granted to them by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to train "navigators," or paid workers who will assist people interested in receiving health insurance through the exchanges.
Statistics show about 725,000 people live uninsured in South Carolina, about a fifth of the state's population.
"We're about going to the average citizen and instructing them 'here are your choices. These are the things that would best fit for you,'" said Henri Baskins, a member of the HIEC. "Helping [to] educate them so that they can make an educated decision."
The group said the grant was approved Thursday, so they are still ironing out exactly how they're planning to reach all those people. But they said reaching them is only half the battle.
"We do believe there is a large, untapped need for affordable health insurance," said the groups leader, Wanda Pearson. "It's just a matter of being able to communicate that."
If you are a resident of South Carolina, and you are choosing not to enroll in health insurance under the federally run exchange, you will be assessed a penalty. The amount of that penalty is yet to be determined.
For more information on the exchanges or the law, visit healthcare.gov or you may call the Benefit Bank of South Carolina. They be reached at 800-726-8774.