COLUMBIA — South Carolina isn’t helping promote the federal health care law to the uninsured, but millions of marketing dollars will still be spent within the state.
The federal government is distributing $3.6 million directly to community groups and health centers to promote the law to an estimated 906,400 South Carolinians without health insurance. The grants are part of a nationwide marketing blitz costing taxpayers at least $684 million, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.
The Obama administration and many states are launching campaigns this summer to get the word out before enrollment for new benefits begins in October. Beyond doling out grants directly, the federal government is also funding state-awarded contracts.
South Carolina is receiving proportionately less, as are other Republican-led states that have opposed the law.
It requires people without health coverage to pay a penalty starting Jan 1.
Online marketplaces called exchanges, set to debut in October, will enable residents to compare coverage terms and prices and then use federal subsidies, if they qualify, to buy a policy.
South Carolina is not running an exchange, leaving that responsibility to the federal government.
That’s why the state didn’t seek any of the millions available for outreach, marketing and advertising, said John Supra, deputy director of the state’s Medicaid agency.
“When we chose to have the federal government operate the exchange, that put the responsibility for marketing and supporting it on the federal government,” he said.
South Carolina ranks 32nd in both per capita and total spending.
The federal government is spending 78 cents per person in South Carolina, where an estimated 20 percent of the population lacks coverage. Nationwide, per capita spending ranges from 46 cents in Wisconsin -- which also isn’t running an exchange -- to $9.23 in West Virginia. Total spending in states ranges from $914,000 in Wyoming to $174.2 million in California, slated to receive a quarter of all public money identified by the AP.
The spending in South Carolina includes $2.4 million awarded to 19 health centers statewide.
Those centers operated 157 sites and served more than 315,000 patients last year -- 36 percent of them uninsured. They expect to use the money to hire 45 workers and help more than 41,000 residents enroll in health plans, according to a July 10 release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Amounts awarded range from $59,000 to Foothills Community Health Care in Clemson to about $208,500 to Care South Carolina in Hartsville.
The federal government has set aside an additional $1.2 million for community groups. The winning applicants are expected to be named in mid-August.