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Kitsap libraries ready to provide information on federal health care law

Expecting that a significant number of people will turn to the library for information on the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, Kitsap Regional Library reference librarians are mobilizing to connect Kitsap residents with the resources they need to answer their questions about the new law.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange created in response to the Affordable Care Act becomes active Oct. 1. Most people will have until Jan. 1 to obtain qualifying health insurance, either through an employer, a government program, the private marketplace or through the exchange. U.S. citizens who do not obtain health care coverage for 2014 will pay a penalty on their 2015 federal income tax.

Librarians Audrey Barbakoff and Tressa Johnson are organizing KRL’s response, which includes both web-based resources and a partnership with the Kitsap County Public Health District to share information about health insurance and the choices that Kitsap residents will have.

“According to the last census, there are more than 27,000 uninsured Kitsap residents,” Johnson said. “With this high number, we anticipate an influx of questions once the state insurance exchange opens. Some may want information about what’s required, what benefits are available, and how to go about the process. Others may want computer help. We recognized that we could best meet the varied needs of our patrons throughout the county by coordinating community support on a systemwide level.”

“The library is a neutral zone,” Johnson added. “We’re not trying to sell something. We are here to provide information and support so that people can make the decisions that are right for them and their particular situation.”

Starting Oct. 1, each branch of the library system will have displays of printed materials supplied by Kitsap County Public Health that explain the requirements and process for purchasing health insurance. In addition, each branch will have information about locations around the county where residents can receive in-person assistance from the health district. Those displays will remain up in KRL branches through the end of the year.

Also, between Oct. 1 and the end of the year, each of KRL’s nine branches will offer at least one classroom-style informational session on the law, led by presenters trained by the Kitsap County Public Health District. Classes will target the informational needs of people with moderate technical skills who have questions about the law’s requirements.

So far, the following classes have been scheduled:

  • Kingston - 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8
  • Downtown Bremerton - 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14
  • Sylvan Way Bremerton - 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Poulsbo - 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2
  • Bainbridge Island - 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13
  • Manchester - 2 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 19
  • Silverdale - 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7
  • Port Orchard - 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17

A limited number of one-on-one sessions with health district-trained volunteers will be available at the Sylvan Way and Bainbridge Island branch libraries, the two largest in the library system. These sessions will target the technical and information needs of people with limited technical skills, who prefer to be individually guided through the process of purchasing insurance on the exchange. Frequency and timing of these sessions will be based on availability.

KRL also has a web page devoted to sharing information about the Affordable Care Act. The page launched on Sept. 15 and will remain on the KRL.org website through March 31, the end of the period during which individuals can enroll for health care coverage on the exchange. The web page, www.krl.org/ahca, will include a small selection of links to the most essential resources.

Barbakoff noted that President Obama has called on public libraries across the nation to inform and educate communities about the Affordable Care Act.

“Whether you are purchasing health insurance for the first time, facing changes or questions related to your existing coverage, or simply want to know more about this law, KRL will strive to provide access to clear, unbiased information and assistance so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family,” she said. “We expect many people to turn to the library for resources and guidance in this process. Those who did not have health insurance previously may have questions about how to meet the requirements of the law, and may also need education to understand the terms used in the insurance plans.”

“Those who have limited technology access and skills may turn to the library for our technological resources, needing both Internet access and assistance in navigating the exchange website,” Johnson added. “To serve the needs of Kitsap County residents in the fullest way possible, KRL has developed a system-wide plan for accommodating the increased demand for computers and technical assistance, as well as providing educational materials and classes.”

The materials and classes will be provided through a partnership with the public health district through a wide network of health organizations in Kitsap.

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