Ohio health care backers urge patience amid delays

TOLEDO, Ohio — Health care providers and other groups that are helping uninsured Ohioans sort out their coverage options are preaching patience after the opening days of the new insurance marketplaces.

Computer glitches frustrated many potential applicants searching for available plans, and those looking for someone to walk them through the process may be left waiting for weeks.

Those promoting the nation’s new health-insurance system say consumers still have months to make decisions and it is more important for people to take their time and make an informed choice — even if that means waiting a month or more.

Several organizations in Ohio that received federal money to hire people to guide consumers through the needed steps do not expect to have all their workers in place until the beginning of November.

“If it’s slower than we hope, we apologize, but we’re going to do it right,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

The organization received almost $2 million to hire and train 30 to 40 outreach workers and volunteers but did not receive state-required certification until Tuesday, the same day the new health insurance system launched.

She hopes all the workers will be in place between mid-October and the beginning of November to assist consumers.

Consumers have until the end of March to choose a health care plan to avoid tax penalties, but they must sign up by mid-December if they want coverage by Jan. 1.

Operators of community health centers in the state plan to use $3.8 million in federal funds to hire 75 workers and train 200 employees to help people enroll.

Some of those workers already have started while the rest should be in place at 36 community health centers around the state within the next month, said Julie DiRossi-King, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers.

Kim Kensler, who works part time for a research company in Toledo and has not had health insurance in nearly 10 years, said she does not want to make a decision until she talks with someone who can offer advice about what is available.

Buying health insurance will be “freeing,” she said. “I’ll have peace of mind.”

Those groups in charge of getting the word out and assisting applicants say they will continue to promote the insurance plans in the coming months and are not too worried that the early glitches on the federally run website selling policies will turn consumers away.

Sharon Schorr, of suburban Cleveland, spent about eight hours in front of her computer on the first day of open enrollment before finally giving up.

“It almost reminded me of going online and trying to buy Springsteen tickets,” said Schorr, a self-employed accountant who works for her husband’s recruiting firm in Orange.

Schorr said even though it was frustrating, she knows she has plenty of time to sign up.