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Published: Monday, 12/16/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Health ‘navigators’ press on

Outreach workers seek out uninsured before deadline

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toni Battle, left, a health-care navigator with the Neighborhood Health Association, talks with Leslie Hayward of West Toledo at Our Brothers Place in downtown Toledo. Outreach workers visit various forums to sign up uninsured people before Dec. 23. Toni Battle, left, a health-care navigator with the Neighborhood Health Association, talks with Leslie Hayward of West Toledo at Our Brothers Place in downtown Toledo. Outreach workers visit various forums to sign up uninsured people before Dec. 23.
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A restaurant/​bar in downtown Toledo is probably the last place you would expect to find an Affordable Care Act outreach worker but the happy hour crowd at Our Brother's Place on Huron Street was buzzing recently with talk of Obamacare as strains of dance music filled the air.

With the deadline looming for the uninsured to enroll in an insurance plan, affordable health-care outreach workers and “navigators” are putting on the full-court press to let the public know they must enroll in a health insurance plan by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

On Monday, a health-care informational forum, hosted by Toledo City Council members Paula Hicks-Hudson and Steve Steel, attracted a sparse crowd at a more formal affair.

About six people attended the meeting at the Lagrange Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, with a few stragglers trickling in throughout the event.

The atmosphere was different but the message was the same at both events: Everyone must have some kind of health-care coverage or they will face a penalty April 1.

At Our Brothers' Place outreach worker Toni Battle-Gaines, who works for the Neighborhood Health Association, treaded lightly as she talked to patrons seated at the bar or at individual high-top tables as they laughed and socialized over a few drinks when she dropped by on Wednesday.

Veola Carpenter, left, seeks advice from Rachel Noleff, an outreach and enrollment worker for the Neighborhood Health Association, during a health-care forum at the Lagrange branch library. Veola Carpenter, left, seeks advice from Rachel Noleff, an outreach and enrollment worker for the Neighborhood Health Association, during a health-care forum at the Lagrange branch library.
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“People are here for a different reason. They are not here necessarily to talk to me about the Affordable Care Act so that’s why I am just kinda cruising through and asking people if they mind if I interrupt them for a few minutes and just give them information,” said Ms. Battle-Gaines.

She said radio station WIMX-FM, Mix 95.7, sponsored “Hump-Day Wednesday” happy hour at Our Brothers’ Place and invited health-care outreach workers to attend.

“They thought it would be good for us to come because there are professionals that come here, independent contractors and entrepreneurs and they might actually have questions or want to know where to go to get help,” said Ms. Battle-Gaines.

Clifton and Beth Beasley were pleasantly surprised to run into a health-care outreach worker because the issue suddenly became personal to their family just the day before.

Mrs. Beasley is an employee of the Lucas County Probate Court, and county commissioners recently approved removing spouses of workers from county-funded medical coverage starting March 1. That will affect about 680 employees who have husbands or wives enrolled in the plan.

“I'll be affected by that, so now I have to go through the health-care exchange and look and see what’s the best plan for my family,” said Mr. Beasley.

Dependents of county workers will continue to be insured in the plan, so Mr. and Mrs. Beasley don't have to worry about finding coverage for their 16-year-old child.

“I think this should have been done months before the rollout. You have to go where the people are because people don’t really understand what it entails. And I wish they would go to more places,” Mr. Beasley said.

Toledo resident Sharvelle Justice, 44, agrees.

“It’s good that she is here because I’m interested in finding out more about it,” said Ms. Justice. She is one the 44,000 uninsured residents in Lucas County and relies on hospital emergency rooms for treatment when she gets sick.

At the other outreach event at the Lagrange Library, people were given the opportunity to sign up on the spot after listening to a presentation from two health-care navigators from the Neighborhood Health Association. One of the primary messages they shared with the group is that the federal Web site healthcare.gov is working well now, after weeks of issues.

Outreach worker Rachel Noleff said it is working so well that she believes many people are finding their own way on the site and don’t need a navigator to hold their hand through the process. But she admitted she was a little surprised by the low turnout at the library.

“We have a calendar chock full of events plus our regular navigator locations. We are everywhere, you know, wherever we think we can reach people,” Ms. Noleff said.

Ms. Noleff said her next outreach event is 5:15 p.m. Thursday at CedarCreek Church on South Byrne Road.

Toledo City Councilman Tyrone Riley also plans to host an Affordable Care Act informational forum with the health-care navigators from 6 to 8 p.m., today at Bethlehem Baptist Church on West Bancroft Street.

The health-care marketplace is open for enrollment through March 31. Consumers must sign up by Dec. 23 for coverage to begin Jan. 1.

More information and appointments with navigators in Lucas, Erie, Sandusky, and Wood counties are available by calling 419-214-0043 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In other northwest Ohio counties, the number is 1-800-648-1176.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: mtaylor@theblade.com or 419-724-6091



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