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Groups conduct Obamacare outreach blitz days before exchanges open

Nasima Rahi, a certified educator for California Covered, shares information about the Affordable Care Act with visitors to Asian Pacific Health Care Venture.
Jed Kim
Nasima Rahi, a certified educator for Covered California, shares information about the Affordable Care Act with a caller to Asian Pacific Health Care Venture.

Charlotte Innes's school laid her off more than a year ago. She's been paying for COBRA health coverage ever since, but she can't afford to keep paying the $758 monthly premium. She also can't afford to lose her health insurance. 

"I’ve had various things happen to me in my life, which I wouldn’t have been able to afford: accidents, I had my appendix out," Innes said. "I have a lot of medication now. I have to have the health insurance.”

Innes, 62, said she's been able to find another teaching job, but it's only part time and doesn't provide her with health benefits. Her COBRA coverage is set to expire in a few months. 

Innes said she intends to sign up for a health care plan through Covered California, the state's online marketplace that is set to open on Tuesday. However, she said she hasn't been able to figure out how much a new coverage plan would cost her, especially since she may qualify for some government subsidies that would help allay her costs. 

RELATED: California's Obamacare insurance marketplace poised to launch Tuesday

Innes isn't alone in her confusion. Roughly half the people in a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they don’t have enough information to understand how the new law will affect them.

She joined a group of about 40 people gathered in a conference room near L.A.'s Chinatown last Wednesday evening for an information session that included a presentation on Covered California and one-on-one counseling sessions with representatives from community organizations and clinics. The event was organized by Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).

The event was one of a slew of outreach initiatives in recent weeks throughout Los Angeles, and the frequency increased as the October 1 Covered California start date has neared. Many efforts were spearheaded by organizations that received federal funding to promote awareness of the online marketplace. Covered California has awarded $40 million to 48 community organizations throughout the state to carry out education programs. 

Local branches of the NAACP have been holding town hall events at hospitals and churches. SEIU organizers have been going door to door in some neighborhoods, asking people to attend information sessions. 

Workers at Asian Pacific Health Care Venture, a community clinic in Los Feliz, have been providing information about Covered California to eligible clients who call or visit. Last Wednesday morning, the phones were mostly silent. 

"Usually, in the morning, we are very busy," said Nasima Rahi, an enrollment counselor at APHCV. "But today is a quieter day."

Rahi and her coworkers said they expect to be much busier once Covered California opens for enrollment. 

Things were a bit livelier at the information session hosted by Becerra, who addressed the audience through a live stream from Washington, D.C. 

It wasn't Becerra the public had come to see; it was the counselors from local community organizations. Each organization met with several people interested in learning more about the new health care law. 

"Everyone's thirsty for knowledge right now, so it's been great," said Maggie Hui of the Chinatown Service Center. "It's been good that there have been key agencies within the community that can be good resources for them." 

While there has been a flurry of activity leading up to the opening of the exchange, some organizations said their outreach efforts will kick into high gear once Covered California is up and running.