MARIETTA - Registering under the Affordable Care Act will be a easier through because of a partnership between Washington-Morgan Community Action and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
The two organizations in October joined for a free enrollment program through a navigator grant. The program runs through the end of March.
According to Carrie McNamee, director of senior and community services for Washington-Morgan Community Action, 36 people have been helped by the health care navigator.
"We definitely want to encourage people to call if they have a question," she said, adding that the hope was to help many more people before the March 31 deadline to sign up.
The navigator can answer questions over the phone or local residents can make an appointment and go to Community Action to meet in person and review the website with a helping hand.
Joree Jacobs, director of communications for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said there is a need for affordable health care and the assistance provided is an extension of the services the organization offers.
At A Glance
* Assistance is provided by Washington-Morgan Community Action and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
* For local assistance in answering questions or setting up an appointment, call Community Action at 373-3745.
Navigators will help those seeking assistance navigate the federal website and answer the questions, but it is up to each individual to decide which plan is right for them.
Each individual will need to know budgetary and tax information going into the appointment.
"We feel like this is important work," she said. "The people we see every day need access to health care. We take pride in making access to health care part of our mission."
Jacobs said Community Action was a good fit for the program and is one of about a dozen agencies that have partnered with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks through the grant.
Because many aren't familiar with the health care market, it is difficult for some to choose a plan that might be right for them, she said, and the navigators can help them look at plans.
"Don't wait until the end of enrollment," she said. "It's a big decision and an important one."
Jacobs said many of those seeking help have more than one appointment because a decision like picking out a health care plan shouldn't be decided in one day.
McNamee acknowledged that many people may choose to get health care on their own instead of looking for someone to help, but said that the navigator is there if the need arises.
"It's very important to have income information (for the process)," she said. "People can go through the entire process by themselves. (But) the navigator is here for guidance."
While the navigator will help with the beginning process of health care enrollment, McNamee said once the process got to the point of picking out a plan it was up to each individual person to choose which one works best. She said that's why it is important to have income and budgetary information, including tax information.
Jacobs said that it is up in the air as to whether the navigator position will be available in the years to come. She said because the money is from a federal grant, it is uncertain as to whether the money will be available in the future.
It's possible alternate funding could be found to make sure certified application counselors could be trained to take the place of navigators, she said.
In the meantime, Jacobs said the March deadline is quickly approaching and area residents should take advantage of the help navigators can provide.
"We encourage everyone to get started now," Jacobs said.