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Navigating ACA Open Enrollment at Your Library

by Francisca Goldsmith on November 20, 2017

By Francisca Goldsmith, library and media consultant based in Worcester, Mass., who serves on the Public Library Association’s Health Literacy Advisory Group; fgoldsmith@gmail.com.

Federal legislation and executive leadership have added confusion to this year’s open enrollment period for insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Here are a few suggestions to make a potentially stressful task easier for both library workers and patrons.

Do your research. To best serve prospective enrollees in your community, it’s important to keep a tight focus on ACA access points and deadlines. Do not assume that your state’s marketplace mirrors federal decisions about the duration of the open enrollment period or access to Medicaid enrollment. Instead, focus on the websites that serve your specific state on these essential issues.

The HealthCare.gov website provides direct links to the insurance marketplace in each state with its own program in place. Based on previous years’ precedent, you can determine whether that applies to your state. If you are uncertain, you can quickly discern whether your state has its own marketplace or participates in the federal program by visiting the Healthcare.gov landing page. When bookmarking URLs on your library’s public computers or issuing announcements, make sure to use links that go directly to your home state’s marketplace.

Help is available; use it! Local, trained help is available free of charge in every state. These guides have received training so they can efficiently and effectively answer specific personal and situation questions from prospective healthcare enrollees. If your state uses the federal insurance marketplace, you and community members can search by ZIP code for an insurance navigator or assistant. If your state has its own marketplace, you can find a tab labeled “Resources” or “Help” on its home page, with a specific listing for “Find Help,” “Contact a Navigator,” or something similar.

Watch the clock. It’s essential to be clear about deadlines, which vary in states with their own marketplaces. Check enrollment deadlines by state here. Make sure to articulate the deadline accurately both when answering reference questions and placing enrollment information on your library’s website.

Make it easy for your patrons. This isn’t the time to make anyone practice new or emerging website navigation skills. To reach as many community members as possible, I recommend placing the enrollment information prominently on your library’s home page, or, as Topeka & Shawnee County (Kansas) Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library have done, one click away on a “health” page linked directly from the navigation menu.