Policy/Biz

Shopping for Health Insurance? Visit Your Local Library For Help With The Exchanges

Librarian stocking books
Libraries are a destination for many seeking information and Internet access, making them a logical place to educate people about web-based health insurance marketplaces. Wikimedia commons

In preparation for the October 1 debut of the health insurance exchanges, the Obama administration has called on advertisers, the NFL, and translators in dozens of languages for informing the public. The next partners in getting the word out about the Health Insurance Marketplace: 17,000 local libraries across the U.S. and the informative librarians who staff them. 

Although virtually anyone who legally resides in the U.S. could shop for health plans on the state-run exchanges, the customers the administration hopes to reach most are the millions of Americans who are currently uninsured. Also, many families and individuals with lower incomes would be eligible for tax credits or become newly eligible for public insurance in states that have expanded Medicaid. These customers would be more likely to rely on public libraries for Internet access.

An estimated 28 million people per year access the Internet through public computers available at libraries, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, making librarians logical allies in educating the public about the web-based health insurance exchanges. A librarian, in essence, helps people connect with sought after information, and libraries have long been gathering places for communities.

"Libraries are a tremendous resource for people in their communities," said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). "They're already a destination many individuals go to when they're seeking out information and understanding on a variety of issues."

In order to prepare for the 7 million people expected to sign up for health plans through the health insurance exchanges , the Institute of Museum and Library Services is working with the Online Computer Library Center to train librarians through the Web, since visitors will likely ask librarians about the law, or computer help navigating the web portal.

This isn't the first time libraries and CMS have partnered up. The Institute of Museum and Library Services and CMS has partnered before in educating seniors about changes to Medicare prescription benefits.

Some libraries are anticipating the change by linking to Healthcare.gov, the government's primary web destination for information on healthcare reform. Others are planning local educational events about the new opportunities available to community members provided by healthcare reform. Libraries and librarians will be a particularly helpful resource in conservative states, where elected officials have committed relatively little money to communicating the benefits of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare.

The partnership between libraries and CMS will be announced officialy on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Library Association.

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