Ohio prepares for federal health insurance market

Ann Sanner, Associated Press
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The state's director of insurance says she's waiting like other Ohioans to see how people will sign up for coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law.

Gov. John Kasich's administration opted to let the federal government run the state's new health insurance marketplace that was created by the Affordable Care Act.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who runs the state's insurance department, told reporters Tuesday that she has browsed the federal government's website about the law but isn't sure what enrollees will see when they search for coverage.

"I still don't have a website that I've actually been on and looked at to show me, you know, what's an Ohio consumer going to see when they go out to see what kinds of options they have in Ohio?" Taylor said. Taylor, a Republican, has been one of the state's most vocal critics of the law.

Consumers can get private health insurance subsidized by the government through the marketplaces created by the law, also known as exchanges. Enrollment starts Oct. 1, and coverage takes effect in January.

Ohio has yet to certify any navigators, a group of professionals who will help people get enrolled the new markets.

Taylor initially said the insurance department was processing one application from an entity for certified navigators, but spokesman Chris Brock later said the department has not yet received any completed applications.

Four organizations have been awarded federal money to hire navigators. One hospital in Cincinnati returned its grant award because of state restrictions.

Ohio created additional regulations for its navigators, including required background checks, training and certification.

Navigators can advise people on whether they'd be eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor and disabled. But they can't offer advice about which health benefit plan is better or worse for a person.

Providers, health centers, food banks and other groups plan to help get the word out about the law to the more than 1.5 million uninsured Ohioans.

The head of one consumer advocacy group expressed confidence Tuesday that Ohioans would have enough in-person help getting enrolled — but maybe not in the opening week of the exchange.

"By mid- or late October, we'll be in great shape," said Cathy Levine, executive director of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio. She said her organization eventually plans to have five counselors on hand to walk people through the process. They will have people schedule appointments in the meantime.

People also can apply for coverage online, through a call center, in person, or on paper on their own.