Ohio, local sign-ups for health care a couple weeks away

While sign-up begins today for the new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, it could be mid-October before Ohio – and Washington County – are ready for sign-ups.

The Affordable Health Care Act requires people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014.

One program that will begin today – even with a shutdown and Congress debate – is enrollment in new health care exchanges for millions of Americans – a crucial part of Obama’s health care law. That’s because most of the program is paid from monies not subject to congressional appropriations.

Lt. Gov Mary Taylor, who heads the Ohio’s Department of Insurance, said Sept. 24 she has looked into the federal website www.healthcare.gov and believes it would still be difficult for a consumer to figure out which plan to sign up for and how to do it.

“I still don’t have a website that I’ve actually been on and looked at to show me, you know, what’s an Ohio consumer going to see when they go out to see what kinds of options they have in Ohio,” Taylor said.

The federal government also has a call center taking questions at 1-800-318-2596.

Taylor, a Republican, has been one of the state’s most vocal opponents of the law.

Enrollment begins today and coverage takes effect in January.

Locally, Washington-Morgan Community Action joined a consortium with the Ohio Association of Food Banks to get funding for a part-time navigator for Washington County.

Food banks, health centers, providers and other entities plan to reach out with information to help the state’s more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans.

Community Action Executive Director David Brightbill said the navigator will help consumers negotiate through the market place. That person will be part-time at least initially and will do presentations to local groups interested in the insurance plans and maybe some one-on-one consultation.

The navigator must complete training online, be certified and pass a background check.

“There was an opportunity late in the summer to apply for federal funds to provide navigator services which we were a part of through an application with the Ohio Foodbank Association,” Brightbill said. “There are regulations both at the federal and state level about what you need to do to be a navigator. Other agencies are going to have to look at that. I don’t think you can call yourself a navigator unless you’ve gotten federal money.”

Brightbill said it might be mid-October before everything is settled to the point when consumers can start signing up for the plans. The part-time navigator will be a starting point for Washington County.

“We won’t know until we get started with it and see how many organizations are looking for information, and there’s only so much money available,” Brightbill said. “We’ll see what happens with that.”

Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio said the organization plans to have five people to help walk people through the process.

“By mid- or late October, we’ll be in great shape,” she said.

Consumers also can apply for coverage online, through a call center, in person or on paper on their own.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.