POLITICS

Obamacare Outreach Recruits Libraries

07/01/2013 02:28 pm ET
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Public libraries will be part of the federal government's sweeping consumer-education campaign on health care reform, President Barack Obama's administration announced Monday.

Starting Oct. 1, individuals and small employers will shop for coverage and learn about financial assistance in health insurance exchange marketplaces. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is implementing these marketplaces under the law, will provide information to libraries in order to educate the public, the agency said.

The Obama administration is beginning a broad education and outreach campaign to reach the millions of people who will be using the health insurance exchanges to obtain health care coverage, which will be required for most people next year. Libraries not only are public resources in most communities, but also provide computer and internet services to people who don't have access in their homes, including the low-income individuals most likely to benefit from Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for private health insurance.

"People will likely turn to libraries to learn about the marketplace, and we want to make sure that library staff has access to the tools and the information to respond to people who want to sign up and enroll for coverage on Oct. 1,” Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a press release.

Surveys have shown that public understanding of the health care reform law is low, especially among low-income and uninsured people who stand to gain the most from Obamacare.

As many as 17,000 libraries could participate in Obamacare educational activities via the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal entity that provides funding to libraries, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Libraries equipped with public computers and Internet access already serve as a bridge across the digital divide, so it made sense to get them involved, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"Libraries are a tremendous resource for people in their communities," Bataille said. "They're already a destination many individuals go to when they're seeking out information and understanding on a variety of issues."

Libraries also have public spaces where meetings can be held. And they already provide health information to 28 million people a year via public access computers, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal grant-making agency, which will coordinate the new effort with CMS. The two federal agencies also worked together during the rollout of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, experience that should help with this effort, Bataille said.

Last week, the administration unveiled a new consumer-information hotline anda new version of the website that will become the health insurance exchange marketplace in October, HealthCare.gov.

So far, the government has launched nationwide advertising and promotional campaigns by the president and other administration officials to publicize the open enrollment period for people who buy their own health insurance, which runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014. The administration and its allies are also planning myriad community-based activities.

The federal government, states like California and Kentucky, nonprofit advocacy organizations such as Enroll America and local groups will share information about the health care law's requirements and benefits in a variety of settings, including churches, schools and state fairs.

The Obama administration also is seeking partnerships with professional sports leagues like the National Football League and the National Basketball Association, which reach wide audiences and young men in particular. Those plans suffered a setback Friday, however, when the NFL announced it currently had no plans to participate. The NFL's statement came after sports leagues said they had received letters from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans warning them not to cooperate with the administration's efforts.

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