By Nicole Hennessy
Ohio’s health insurance exchange opened Oct. 1 and, despite Congress’ inability to agree on a budget and the subsequent government shutdown, the website www.healthcare.gov functioned as a go-between for the public and the now-mandatory health plans for all Ohioans. Other government-run websites, like the Federal Trade Commission’s, shut down with the government, or like the U.S. Department of Education’s website (www.ed.gov), ran at limited capacity due to the furlough of employees.
So, while the term “debt ceiling” and words like “stalemate” and “gridlock” rattle around the media like a pinball hitting every obstacle on its way down the table, only to be propelled upward again, www.healthcare.gov remained available.
However, throughout the first week, reports detailed glitches in the website, periods of the site being down and the absence of government-employed “navigators,” included in the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) provisions, to assist individuals throughout the process of choosing a plan.
Health insurance is now mandatory for almost all Ohioans. The deadline to sign up and avoid fines is Dec. 15, 2013.
On Nov. 7, Westlake Porter Public Library will host an informational session led by Westlake financial planner Raymond B. Brown. In the meantime, the library’s website has made available helpful links and explanations of qualifications and different types of available plans.
Brown, who regularly hosts Medicare and Social Security informational sessions at the library, is busy studying Ohio’s new exchange, and expects a large crowd in November.
“There’s a lot of interesting things going on right now; a lot of questions,” he said, sitting in his Crocker Park conference room, shoppers dodging in and out of stores below.
In addition to those who need assistance sorting out their options, Brown added, “There are a lot of people who aren’t affected by it (the ACA) who maybe have concerns.”
Assuming the system continues without amendment or a repeal for the next five years, Brown says he expects to see a normalization of pricing and carriers that haven’t yet signed on enter the marketplace, “because they’ll get a clear picture of what the costs are gonna be, and then they can price that more adequately.”
“Competition typically leads to lower prices,” he added.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. and Insurance Director Mary Taylor put out a press release via the Ohio Department of Insurance three days after Ohio’s exchange opened, warning consumers of scams that have already started popping up.
“It’s imperative Ohioans understand the facts about the ACA and the federal exchange so they can best protect themselves,” Taylor said. “Because the federal law and the exchanges are new and complicated to consumers, Ohioans should be even more cautious about potential scams and fraudulent behavior.”
Constituents were advised to guard personal information, never pay upfront fees, beware of offers that sound too good to be true and to get information from reliable sources, mainly www.healthcare.gov or an agent affiliated with the organization.
They also encouraged people to report suspected scams to the insurance department, going on to state, “There is not an ‘Obamacare’ insurance card and the ACA does not require Medicare recipients to sign up for new coverage to continue to receive benefits.”
With links to the state of Ohio Department of Insurance FAQ page, the entire text of the ACA as well as several summaries and infographics, those who plan on attending Brown’s November presentation can log onto www.westlakelibrary.org to learn more about what their family’s options are in the meantime.
“Here’s how the exchange works …” Brown will begin, taking time to listen to and explain personal scenarios throughout the evening.
Brown’s Affordable Care Act presentation will take place at the Westlake Porter Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 7. Those interested in attending are encouraged to register online or call 440-250-5460.