A Sonoma County-based nonprofit and several others with ties in the North Bay are among 48 organizations across the state to share in $37 million in outreach and education grants from Covered California, the state's online health exchange developed under health care reform.

Petaluma-based  Redwood Community Health Coalition received $830,000 to focus exclusively on the North Bay, while a number of Sacramento-based nonprofits with a local presence also received grants that will focus  efforts across the state. They include Catholic Charities of California, which has a presence in Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Lake and  Mendocino counties, which received $859,000. California Rural Indian Health Board, which has a presence in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, was given $300,000. The California NAACP, which has locations in Sonoma and Solono counties, received $600,000.

The grants are designed to help a number of nonprofit and community organizations across the state to help educate and enroll as many eligible people into the health exchange, where an online insurance marketplace has been developed for the newly insured come January 2014. Enrollment begins this October.

Enactment of the Affordable Care Act includes a significant expansion of Medi-Cal, which will enable tens of thousands of residents across the North Bay to obtain health insurance. 

Federal and state subsidies will be made available to uninsured residents with incomes between 138 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line in an effort to help them obtain health coverage. The Redwood Community Health Coalition, a network of 16 health centers across Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties, estimates that there are more than 110,000 uninsured residents in those counties won't qualify for the Medi-Cal expansion , but will qualify for financial assistance to purchase health plans through the exchange.

“Getting residents enrolled in quality health care coverage is crucial to improving their overall health,” Dr. Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, chief medical officer of the health coalition, said in a statement.  “When people have health coverage, they are much more likely to get preventative care instead of waiting until they are sick and being treated in emergency rooms or being hospitalized. Coverage improves our community’s health and ultimately drives down the overall cost to the health care system.”

Statewide, the  selected organizations will reach nearly 9 million individuals and more than 200,000 small businesses in California’s 58 counties, according to Covered California, also known as the California Health Benefit Exchange.  Covered California said it will focus its outreach on 5.3 million Californians in need of individual insurance, about half of whom may be eligible for financial assistance with their premiums.

Redwood Community Health Coalition said it will  collaborate with a number of county health agencies in its outreach efforts, among them: Sonoma County Health Services Department, Sonoma County Human Services Department, Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency, Alliance for Rural Community Health, the Family Resource Centers of Mendocino, Lake County Family Resource Center, Lake County Office of Education, Redwood Children’s Services, and North Coast Opportunities.

“Covered California is designed for those who earn too much money to qualify for Medi-Cal, but may still need to find affordable coverage,” said Pedro Toledo, director of community and government relations for the Redwood Coalition. “With this grant, we’ll be able to help them find affordable, high-quality health care coverage.”  

Covered California said the goal of the grant program is to "increase awareness about the new benefits, to educate targeted audiences about the subsidy programs available to them and to motivate consumers and small businesses to be part of obtaining health insurance."

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Covered California's board of directors was allocated $43 million in federal funding over two years. Of that total, $34 million has been allocated for community outreach efforts in the individual market; another $3 million has been allocated to organizations that reach out to small businesses eligible to provide coverage to employees through the Small Business Health Options Program, better known as the SHOP side of the exchange.  The remaining $6 million will be used to augment successful outreach and education strategies in 2014.

“We are excited to build on our partnerships with organizations that have trusted relationships in diverse communities throughout the state,” Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, said in a statement.

A full list list of grantees, grant amounts, and information on planned grantee activities is available at www.hbex.ca.gov.