The Prescription for Finding Healthcare Information

July 1, 2013

The ALA Washington Office held a special informational session on Sunday afternoon to let librarians get a head start on helping their patrons enroll for healthcare through the new Affordable Care Act, which aims to provide reasonable health insurance for all Americans equally, regardless of any pre-existing conditions.

Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff replayed the video of President Barack Obama that debuted earlier in the day at ALA Council I. As the president explained, the 85% of Americans who already have insurance through work or Medicare will not have to do anything; but beginning October 1, the 15% who are uninsured will be able to choose from a menu of competing, affordable plans in what Obama calls “the largest healthcare tax cut for working families in our history.” About 7 million people are expected to sign up for coverage in the new marketplaces, but the heavy emphasis on web-based portals will put anyone without access to a computer at a disadvantage.

That is where public libraries come in. ALA and the US Department of Health and Human Services announced an agreement on June 28 to disseminate information about the new opportunities, especially an “apples-to-apples comparison among competing insurance plans,” as Jackie Garner, Medicaid consortium administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, put it. She suggested that libraries stage awareness events to get the word out.

WebJunction, OCLC’s training and service division, is also a partner in the effort, according to WebJunction Senior Program Manager Kendra Morgan, and will be offering toolkits and webinars beginning July 1.

Ruth Holst, associate director at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) Greater Midwest Regional Medical Library, said the initiative was essentially a program of “health insurance literacy” that will give consumers the ability to evaluate plans, select the best plan for their needs, and use it effectively once they sign up. The NN/LM will raise public awareness of health insurance in hospital and public libraries “using multiple dissemination methods: email, blogs, handouts, web pages, and presentations.”

The panelists recommended three websites as a place to start:

  • The revamped, managed by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, catering to consumers.
  • A new Health Insurance Marketplace, designed to guide librarians and other professionals who are helping people to apply.
  • MedlinePlus, administered by the US National Institutes of Health, which presents information on medicine and healthcare in easy-to-understand language.

Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Susan Hildreth emphasized that “there are no federal funds to support this program,” which could be a hardship for libraries that are already overwhelmed by shrinking budgets and increased use. She encouraged libraries to seek partnerships with other health organizations in their communities and set aside at least one or two public-access computers for the exclusive use of healthcare seekers.