By Matt Rivers

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Local unions and social services groups are making a strong push in Philadelphia to inform people about the Affordable Care Act and its impending open enrollment period set to being October 1st.

The bill was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, and certain aspects have been rolling out slowly since then.  But next Tuesday’s open enrollment, where people can sign up for healthcare plans on exchanges managed by the state or federal government, is widely seen as one of the law’s most important steps.

The problem, according to experts that spoke to CBS 3, is that many people remain confused about what the law is designed to do, how to sign up for healthcare through the exchanges, or if they are even eligible to do so.

“This law has been in effect for several years now, so I think they should have started educating people years ago instead of waiting until the proverbial last day,” said Waleska Maldonado, a vice president at Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a local social services organization.

Maldonado said people are asking her organization, which has a strong focus on healthcare, how to enroll in the programs.

“So we’ve been training people as certified application counselors, to help guide them through this process,” said Maldonado.

The counselors, or navigators, are certified professionals who have received extensive training, and can help sign people up for the law.

For people like Pamela Williams, who isn’t sure if she qualifies for the new program, information is key.

“This is extremely confusing, although I think it could be a good thing if it’s done right,” said Williams.  “But I think the more information you have, the better decision you can make about what’s right for you.”

The local chapter of Service Employees International Union, which represents many lower paying, hourly employees, is also prepping its members.  Local shop stewards, including Stanley Dawson, have been talking to fellow members, urging them to  see out groups like Congreso, where they can get help signing up.

“This is a really serious thing that’s going on here and it’s important people know what their choices and options are,” said Dawson.

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