On November 1, 2015, the third open enrollment period begins for individuals to access or renew affordable health coverage through the health insurance marketplace. This open enrollment cycle runs through January 31, 2016. As trusted community institutions, with technology resources, partnerships, and programming expertise, libraries are well-positioned to connect patrons to the information they need to be successful in obtaining resources that support their health and well-being. In fact, recent data released from the 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey (PDF) shows that 59.4% of public libraries provide services or programs to help patrons identify health insurance resources (page 62). While the scope of the health insurance-related services any individual library provides is ultimately dependent upon local priorities and library capacity, here are a few key things you can do to prepare yourself and your community for open enrollment:
- Confirm the health insurance marketplace serving your state, using this quick reference page from HealthCare.gov. Residents in a majority of states will use HealthCare.gov for enrollment support directly, but some states have their own sites, so it’s useful to verify yours. At a minimum, you can direct patrons with questions to the relevant marketplace and customer service resources in your state to receive direct support. Some libraries even put their state’s health insurance marketplace website link and customer service numbers directly on their homepage during open enrollment!
- Identify local partners, using the Find Local Help feature at HealthCare.gov. Many communities have local organizations and individuals trained specifically to provide free health insurance marketplace support. The organizations can help individuals apply for, identify, and enroll in or renew a plan. In previous enrollment periods, libraries have invited these organizations to hold events or schedule appointments at their library.
- Explore information for public libraries, using the Navigate the Marketplace guide from WebJunction’s Health Happens in Libraries program. This guide has been informed by state and public library input, and seeks to connect public library staff in all states to reliable marketplace resources, as well as to provide library staff with practical actions they can take to make these resources meaningful in their communities.
If you have an example of ways your library is preparing for open enrollment, please reach out to share your story, or tweet it at #libs4health! The steps you take to prepare now will provide immediate value to your patrons who may seek support and guidance on this complex topic.