Learning about the ACA

Q. It was in our local newspaper last weekend that at the ALA Annual Conference it was going to be announced that libraries are going to be a main source for citizens during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  Are you aware of any training or guidance available to ensure that library staff are well-educated for the public?

Have health insurance questions?A.  Yes, some. At the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and WebJunction, a program of OCLC, to assure that librarians have the information and connections with local experts needed to connect their patrons to information about the Health Insurance Marketplace component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when open enrollment begins October 1, 2013. [The initial eHealth pages became available July 1, 2013.]  Also at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, the ALA Washington Office presented a panel presentation, “Libraries and Health Insurance: Preparing for Oct. 1,” with representatives from IMLS, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, OCLC WebJunction, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM), to present plans for making resources broadly available.The session was recorded; information on availability will be announced through the Washington Office’s District Dispatch

And yes, libraries will be a key resource for members of our communities seeking accurate information on the provisions of the law and how it affects them—just as libraries have provided assistance with digital television transition, learning about citizenship and passport information, Medicare drug discount cards, voter registration or voting locations, and using public access computers to get disaster relief information, to name a few examples.

First, a little background on the law. The Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress and then signed into law by the President on March 23, 2010, and upheld by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2012, is being phased in over a four-year period.  On October 1, 2013, open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace begins, with coverage beginning after January 1, 2014. HealthCare.gov, a consumer site for information on the law provides a link to the text of the law, along with additional information on the Health Insurance Marketplace, which are called "exchanges" in some reports. It is estimated that the 15% of Americans without insurance from their employer or through Medicare will be seeking coverage through the Marketplace.

With the IMLS grant to OCLC Webjunction announced just days ago, the process for rolling out information is only beginning.  We will be linking to this information as it becomes available on our Affordable Care Act resource guide. These updates will also be reported widely, but definitely through the ALA Washington Office's Capwiz and District Dispatch services; sign up at http://capwiz.com/ala/mlm/signup/.

Why is having this information available so important? As thriving community centers, libraries are trusted places that Americans look to for government assistance and support. As reported in the 2010 brief, U.S. Public Libraries & E-Government Services, the delivery of governmental services via the Internet is growing, and for many Americans the public library is their only access to the Internet. Similarly, Opportunity for All: How Library Policies and Practices Impact Public Internet Access, a 2011 IMLS study, showed that an estimated 37 percent of library computer users (28 million people) use library computers and seek assistance from librarians for health and wellness issues, including learning about medical conditions, finding health care providers, and assessing health insurance options.

Initial post 7-3-2013; link added 7-11-2013.


All U.S. citizens now have access to affordable health insurance options. The Marketplace allows individuals and small businesses to compare health plans on a level playing field while middle and low-income families get tax credits that cover a significant portion of the cost of coverage. The plan is that Medicaid program expanding to cover more low-income Americans. All together, these reforms mean that millions of people who were previously uninsured are now gaining coverage, thanks to the ACA. - Shimon Haber