The Pasco-based Community Action Connections is one of 10 groups across Washington picked as a "lead organization" to help residents navigate the new state health insurance exchange.
The nonprofit's work will include coordinating a network of "in-person assisters" in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties who are trained to aid people in signing up for health plans.
CAC plans to work with entities such as Grace Clinic, area hospitals and the Benton-Franklin and Walla Walla health districts, said Judith Gidley, executive director.
"There will be a lot of places people can go and get personal assistance to sign up," she said.
Residents will be able to start enrolling in health plans through the online Washington Healthplanfinder marketplace in October, with coverage starting in January 2014.
The federal Affordable Care Act requires most people to have health insurance next year or pay a penalty. States are to have an exchange in place by Jan. 1, 2014; they can leave the creation to the federal government, partner with the feds or move ahead with a state-based exchange, as Washington has chosen to do.
Gidley said about 46,000 people in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties are uninsured. At least 3,000 people in the three counties are expected to enroll in health plans with help from CAC and its network, she said. People also can enroll on their own.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is providing grants to CAC and the other lead organizations for their work. CAC's share is $264,000.
In a news release, Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Exchange said, "We are excited to partner with such knowledgeable and trusted organizations that are experts at reaching people in their communities. Their work will help connect hundreds of thousands of people with quality health coverage -- many for the first time."
Gidley said details about where to seek in-person assistance in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties will come later this summer.