Locals Struggle To Shop For Health Insurance But Help Is On The Way

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Athens County residents eager to shop for health insurance using the online marketplaces at the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul were stalled many times this week due to website glitches or an overwhelmed server.

Sarah Kaplan, 25, tried to apply Tuesday afternoon, but the security question section wasn’t working properly, so she wasn’t able to complete the application. Kaplan, who is a Group III employee with Ohio University, currently isn’t offered health insurance through her job. She has coverage under her parents’ plan (another feature of the health care overhaul) but that will end in November, when she turns 26.

Those who weren’t able to enroll immediately needn’t worry, though. The open enrollment period lasts for six months, which should provide enough time for federal agencies to fix the problems.

For individuals seeking more one-on-one assistance, the county is expected to get some help there, too, at area health clinics and through the Athens County Public Library system.

“We’ve prepared ourselves,” said Jenaye Antonuccio, communications coordinator for Athens County Public Libraries. “The American Libraries Association sent out tons of information for us to print out as handouts. We can also direct people to the website, if need be, and help them work through that. We’re not allowed to make choices for them, but since we’re one of the only places with free wifi and public computers, we’re supposed to provide that service.”

Lauren Miller, director of Athens County Public Libraries, has also invited two certified navigators from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to visit the libraries. The Columbus-based foodbank association is one of a handful of organizations in Ohio that received a federal grant to establish its team of navigators, who are individuals certified to assist people to shop for insurance.

Miller collaborated with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to offer educational sessions for the public in the libraries starting Oct. 15 through Nov. 7. See accompanying story for dates and locations.

"It's part of the library's mission to share resources and information," Miller said. "It makes perfect sense that we would be assisting individuals through this process. Librarians are compassionate resourceful individuals, and we will guide people to find the answers."

Ohio University’s Community Health Programs, which is operated out of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, may get a navigator through the Ohio Association of Free Clinics. Kathy Trace, director of the Area Health Education Center and Community Health Programs, said she will know more next week.

Even if the Community Health Programs doesn’t get a navigator, individuals will still be able to receive assistance through the free clinic, explained Dr. Wayne Carlsen, medical director of CHP.

“It’s just part of what we do everyday,” Carlsen said. “We connect people with appropriate resources.”

While no navigators are on the ground yet in the county, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks can take phone calls at (800) 648-1176. Information on informational events is also posted at No events are posted yet for Southeast Ohio.