Feb 5, 2014

Icy Weather at Ohio's Health Exchange

The Affordable Care Act ground game is playing out just as healthcare opponents have planned.

Yesterday evening I visited a healthcare.gov sign-up and outreach event. The weather was terrible, so there was not much of a crowd. The event was designed for people who did not use the Internet. The people who attended yesterday were a mix of somewhat older adults and recent immigrants.

Ohio’s anti-Obamacare legislation and administrative practices clearly affected what was happening. The state adopted legislative and regulatory tactics that have virtually wiped out the capacity of health advocates to do marketing, sales, and customer service work to assist with enrollments.

For one thing, only licensed insurance agents can assist with navigating the healthcare.gov website. Volunteers and outreach workers cannot help customers, beyond setting up email accounts (a precondition to beginning the process). Several nonprofits that had signed up to do customer service work (navigator work) bowed out because of the risk of prosecutions and civil penalties for saying too much about the process or the plans.

Ohio’s Department of Insurance has to approve sales materials, and has 90 days to say yes or no to whatever groups want to print. Consequently, the written materials available at yesterday’s event said very little. If anything needed clarification, program workers could not just type and print what they needed.

There are over 60 health plans in our area. Because nothing was available on paper, there wasn’t even a “binder full of health plans” that people could page through to see benefit choices, drugs in the formularies, and price ranges. This makes it impossible to browse through benefit packages and do head-to-head comparisons –or have a serious chat about choices -- in advance of logging on to the system.

I was told that Ohio’s bad attitude towards the Affordable Care Act is expected to result in very low enrollment rates. This is a shame, especially for vulnerable populations. 

People with mental health concerns have complicated coverage needs. They need information from peers and from other families who have faced similar issues in order to make good healthcare enrollment choices. This is exactly what Ohio's restrictions forbid.

(Image from www.heraldsun.com.au)

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