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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Libraries Serve As Health Insurance Info Hubs


“So we know people are going to the library and we want to make sure librarians know about community resources and web sites that they need to give them accurate information,” says Mamie Bittner, director of government affairs for IMLS, who was in Philadelphia for the conference. 

As the Newbery and Caldecott awards excitement was going on, Bittner and a handful of other librarians from Texas to Idaho to Northeast Pennsylvania were brainstorming about ways to help their patrons navigate the process of signing up for health coverage.

Last summer, IMLS issued a $286,104 grant to craft webinars geared toward librarians. More than 1,000 have participated since that launched, Bittner said.

“There are pressures on libraries. They are stressed in many ways, but meeting the high priority information needs of their community, that is their job," she says, noting that libraries were active in assisting seniors with the launch of Medicare Part D, for example.

'We Saw An Influx'

Bittner says libraries “are assuming a variety of roles” as it relates to the Affordable Care Act. Not all are going as far as the Free Library in Philadelphia. “Other staff are just being ready, so that they know where the websites are and can help people find them,” Bittner says.

In Delaware, state librarian Annie Norman, says they’ve been thirsty for useful, accurate information so they can best assist patrons.

“We saw such an influx of people needing job assistance, that when this big health care initiative was coming in, we thought ‘They’re going to be coming in! 35,000 people could be on our doorstep with questions,’ so we wanted to be prepared to help them,” Norman says.

The system first turned to the state, which is running the health care marketplace in partnership with the federal government. Libraries in Delaware have since hosted more than three dozen public events.

Navigators, or federally certified application assistors, have used library space to meet with people and help them enroll. The libraries have computers with solid, protected internet connections, which are helpful for people who don’t have internet access elsewhere.

Norman says they haven't seen the influx of people they had initially expected, but they're also tracking the questions -- 300 so far -- people have, so they can better respond to insurance questions in the future.

“We’re laying the foundation for years to come,” says Cathay Keough, coordinator of reference services for Delaware’s Division of Libraries.

Approaches also vary from library to library and community to community. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the library has a history of being active in responding to community events. Superstorm Sandy is one example.

“We were very prepared to help the community with stuff like that because they see us as a place to help with that information,” says Julie Senack, head of information and community education services at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. The library became a FEMA base, with people applying for assistance inside. Now, she says the library is applying those lessons to the Affordable Care Act rollout.

Thu, Feb 13 2014

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