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updated: 5/17/2013 5:07 PM

Illinois extends deadline for health guide grants

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Associated Press

Community groups in Illinois have been given more time to apply for $28 million in grants to help consumers learn how to shop for health insurance that will be available under President Barack Obama's health overhaul law.

Illinois officials announced Friday they've extended the deadline for grant applications by 12 days to June 11. The new deadline gives more time for applicants to find collaborative partners, state officials said.

More than 100 groups filed letters expressing interest in the grants, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. The new deadline still allows sufficient time for training outreach workers ahead of this summer's coordinated push to educate people about the new health insurance marketplace, Claffey said.

The Affordable Care Act -- Obama's signature domestic achievement -- requires that nearly all Americans have health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. New insurance marketplaces are scheduled to be operating in every state by Oct. 1. People who are uninsured will be able to comparison-shop for affordable health plans on these websites and many will qualify for tax credits to help them pay for coverage.

In Illinois, the grant winners will oversee trained guides -- called in-person counselors -- who will educate people about the marketplace and help consumers understand their insurance plan choices.

The federal grant money will be distributed in a competitive selection process. Organizations eligible to apply include nonprofit groups, farming organizations, fishing industry organizations, chambers of commerce and unions.

State officials intend to distribute the grants with consideration to serving various populations, regions and cultures. The University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health will run a training program this summer for organizations selected for the grants.

On a parallel track, 13 ad agencies and public relations firms are vying for a government contract potentially worth $35 million. The company that wins the contract will design TV ads, radio spots and billboards to urge people without insurance to sign up.

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