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Ohio "Navigators" Fighting Red Tape During ObamaCare Roll Out

Ohioans for the first time Tuesday could begin to shop on the health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government issued a number of grants in the state for agencies to hire so-called “navigatorsâ€? to help guide people through the marketplace. But there’s been a snag. Red tape is preventing the navigators from helping people with questions about the insurance marketplace. The phones were ringing as usual at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks in downtown Columbus. Mixed in with calls about food assistance were calls looking for information about health insurance. The agency received the largest federal grant in Ohio to serve as a “navigatorâ€? to help Ohioans navigate through the complicated health care law and its insurance choices. But the navigators were much help on day one of ObamaCare. The association’s Zach Reat explained to a caller that red tape was getting in the way. "So we don’t have any navigators available through the Ohio Association of Foodbanks navigator program at this point because we’re still working through the federal and state certification processes," Reat said. The association expects to hire as many as 40 navigators. But it didn’t get the federal grant until late August, and it has been scrambling the last six weeks to get people trained and then certified by the federal government and the state insurance department. So for now, “We’re able to answer people’s questions, give them information they need to enroll themselves, and, finally, send them a preparation package so that they can begin to pull things together so that when they meet with a navigator they have all the information they need," Reat said. The roll out of The Affordable Care Act has been rife with partisan politics. The head of Ohio’s insurance department – Republican Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor – is a fierce opponent of ObamaCare. But Insurance Department spokesman Chris Brock said politics has played no role in any application. “The department is handling these applications just like we would any other licensure or certification process, and our staff is working as quickly as it can with entities and individuals as they provide their applications to us," Brock said. Brock said Ohio Association of Foodbanks received its certification as of Tuesday afternoon, and individual navigators will be certified as their applications are received. When asked directly whether she thinks politics has held up any certifications, the foodbanks’ director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said she thinks the state is doing what it can in new territory, “We don’t get involved in the politics. We are here to help connect people, many who have been without access to healthcare and health insurance for too long, to the benefit they need at which they need to get well, to get a healthcare home," Hamler-Fugitt said. Meanwhile, even though they are not official yet, association navigators will take calls. Jessica May talked to a Cleveland woman on Medicaid looking for cheaper coverage. “I gave her the event on this website that has information sessions and things like that for her, and she was going to go until she found out the senators were going to be there,â€? May laughed. “And she was like, ‘this is just a publicity stunt.’ So I said, well, no this is an informational session, you know, they may be there just to show their support. So we’ll see what she takes away from that.â€? The foodbanks association expects to be fully operational to help with the insurance marketplace by November First. And people have until December 15th to sign up with an exchange if they want coverage to begin on January First.