The federal health care marketplace is set to open Oct. 1, and Ohio organizations are scrambling to prepare. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, almost all Americans will be required to have health care either through an employer, through a private insurer, or through a state- or federally-run marketplace. The marketplaces will essentially be regulated online shopping centers where consumers can compare health plans and find out whether they qualify for federal subsidies.
In states that opted out of state-run marketplaces, the federal government is responsible for coordinating a set of health insurance plans and helping those who aren’t insured through work find and shop for those plans. “Navigators” are the health marketplace experts who will help people figure out how to do that shopping.
In August the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made grants to five Ohio organizations to hire navigators. These navigators’ target customers will be people without health insurance who may have a hard time figuring out the marketplace, either because of language barriers, computer literacy or because they’re not aware of the new law.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks got a federal grant of nearly $2 million to train navigators across the state, but they’re still in the process of getting staff trained, and as of Wednesday their number of certified navigators was zero and they had not made any new hires.
Meanwhile, the group was facing a mountain of paperwork: separate federal and state certifications, and a request from a groups of House Republicans in Washington for extensive documentation of the navigator program.
“It is a little bit time consuming, and it’s draining a little bit of resources,” said Jason Elchert, the association’s deputy director, of the House request. He said the real challenge, though, will be actually reaching the uninsured—more than 1.5 million people in Ohio. “How do we hit all those people to the best of our abilities?”
The Foodbank Association is planning to 250 public meetings across the state in the coming months. Private insurers, hospitals and other community groups will also hold outreach events. Open enrollment for the new offerings through the federal marketplace runs from Oct. 1-March 31.