Open enrollment for California’s health insurance exchange begins in October and runs through March. But the work is already beginning to make sure San Diegans know their coverage options.

Covered California, the state-run exchange, awarded local nonprofit SAY San Diego $500,000 to help residents sign up for new health policies offered under the Affordable Care Act.

The health reform law says all Americans must be insured by tax time next year or face a penalty – 1 percent of their annual income or $95, whichever is higher. The penalty will increase to a 2.5 percent income cut or $695 in 2016.

Speak City Heights

SAY Service Director Kevin O’Neill says outreach workers will fan out across the county with iPads to get people connected to exchange caseworkers. He says they’ll pay particular attention to areas where language barriers and low incomes make for a steep learning curve.

“On a grassroots level, especially in areas like City Heights and southeastern San Diego, we’re really looking at opportunities to partner with our schools,” O’Neill said. “We’re getting out to where families are at.”

O’Neill said about half of the outreach work will target San Diego’s Latino community, which represents the largest group to benefit from the new coverage options. Latinos account for nearly 17 percent of the U.S. population – and nearly 40 percent of California’s – but make up a third of the nation’s uninsured.

The Latino population is also comparatively young, and that’s a good thing for insurance pools. Young, healthy consumers help offset insurance costs for individuals who require more frequent, costly trips to see a doctor. Nearly half are under the age of 26, compared with 35 percent of all Americans, according to Pew Research and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Covered California plans are open to legal residents and businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Individuals making up to about $45,000 a year and families of four earning about $92,000 annually will qualify for subsidies that can be applied directly to their insurance premiums, bringing down monthly costs.

SAY’s iPad-clad workers will hit the streets in late July. If you’re clamoring for answers now, try this interactive guide by KQED and The California Report.

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Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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