A Tucson-based program has received nearly $1 million from the federal government to educate residents in four Arizona counties about upcoming changes in health insurance.

The nonprofit Pima Community Access Program is one of 41 recipients of grants totaling $32 million that were announced this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The awards are part of $140 million included in the Affordable Care Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 for health insurance enrollment and renewal outreach.

Health insurance marketplaces will begin enrolling Americans in every state on Oct. 1. The marketplaces are exchanges where consumers can purchase federally subsidized health insurance under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

But since so many Americans don't know very much about the new law, the federal government is making efforts to educate people in time for enrollment. Officials also want to make sure all qualified people are enrolling in Medicaid, which is a government health insurance program for low-income people.

The grant money awarded to the Pima Community Access Program will go toward preparing communities in Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Maricopa counties for the new health insurance landscape, executive director Michal Goforth said.

An existing coalition of the four counties called Nuestra Salud will use the money to train educators so that they can in turn inform the public about the changes.

Goforth said her group will work with grassroots organizations as well as the state's Medicaid program to help make sure Arizonans, particularly children, are enrolled in health insurance.

Nuestra Salud says approximately 700,000 children in the four counties will be potentially affected by changes due to implementation of the new health law.

The grants will build on U.S. Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius' Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful. Since 2008, the percentage of uninsured children in the U.S. has dropped from 8.9 percent to 6.6 percent.

But as long as any child in the U.S. goes without health insurance, "we shouldn't be satisfied," Sebelius said.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134.