Confused about Affordable Care Act? Library can help

August 15, 2013|By Diane C. Lade, Staff writer

Confused about the Affordable Care Act? Worried you won't know which health-care plan to choose?

Help is as close as your nearest library.

With the beginning of open enrollment just months away, South Florida's library systems join others across the country in partnering with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to ease consumers through the Affordable Care Act maze. Through a federal grant, librarians and researchers are being trained on the health-care program's basics, the enrollment process and where to get unbiased information.

Broward and Palm Beach county library officials say they are fine-tuning their programs now and will be ready to go on Oct. 1, the day open enrollment begins. It ends March 31.

While librarians won't enter people's personal details on documents, or help them pick plans, "we can guide them to the correct form and show them [things like] how to use a mouse," said Laura Connors, associate director for the Broward County Libraries Division. "We want to get our staff trained as quickly as possible so when people come in and say, 'I don't have a computer, what do I do?' we'll be ready."

The state's 3.8 million uninsured, as well as small business owners now not providing insurance benefits, are among those who may need to shop for plans.

Librarians may find things getting hectic in October. The annual open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and stand-alone drug plans, which are offered by private carriers through Medicare, begins Oct. 15 and seniors often use library terminals to get online coverage details.

Floridians on Medicare and Medicaid, or with coverage under their employers or government benefits, won't be required to change or buy additional coverage under the act, also known as Obamacare.

Internet access and skills are going to be critical when shopping for plans and during open enrollment, meaning the technologically disadvantaged will need help. The federal website,, is the main way consumers will be able to get details about the act and coverage options, and, later on, learn which companies will be offering plans in their area.

To create the Affordable Care Act training, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency, gave a $286,104 allocation to OCLC WebJunction, a nonprofit that offers continuing education for librarians.

The libraries' role, Connors said, is a natural because people have been using their public computer terminals for years to sign up for food stamps and other government benefits. Seniors flocked to their libraries after another massive health-care program, the additional Medicare Part D drug coverage, was launched seven years ago.

Library computer stations are popular. Broward County libraries logged 2.4 million user sessions in fiscal year 2011-12, and Palm Beach County had 1.1 million.

Advocacy groups including the League of Women Voters and AARP also will be offering workshops on the health-care act at libraries in both counties. And the Palm Beach County Library System is considering preparing printed handouts including links to helpful sites, said Dani Lichtenberg, manager of research and information at the county's main library in West Palm Beach.

Later this month, federal officials will announce the Florida organizations or individuals certified as health-care navigators, or those authorized to give in-person counseling on plan choice. Library officials said they anticipate making referrals to the navigators when their patrons need more personal guidance.

AARP is wrapping up training of up to 40 volunteers, who will be leading presentations and answering questions in libraries, senior centers and other community gathering places statewide. The organization, whose members are 50 and older, also has created, an interactive online tool to help health-care consumers of all ages.

But AARP, which lends its brand name to private Medicare insurance, will not be making any product pitches or helping consumers pick specific plans in its Affordable Care Act education efforts, said Nicole Duritz, vice president of health and family education.

"Our goal is to make people aware of the benefits, how it will work, and to guide and support them," Duritz said., 954-356-4295

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