When Gerard Rootring moved to America 20 years ago after meeting his future wife, he left behind his health coverage in the Netherlands.
Rootring, 73, of Perry Township didn’t work the amount of time in the United States required to pay into the Medicare program. As a result, he doesn’t qualify for the federal health insurance program for people ages 65 and older.
Now he’s hoping the program known as Obamacare will provide affordable health-care coverage options.
Rootring was among a handful of people who came to the Lawton Street Community Center in Akron on Tuesday for an event to help people sign up for new health insurance options sold through a federally run website with potential subsidies.
Despite continuing technical difficulties with the www.healthcare.gov website, certified application counselors from Summit County Public Health were on hand to try to assist consumers with their questions.
“I don’t know where to start,” Rootring said.
Enrollment assistance is being offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the Lawton Street Community Center, 1225 Lawton St.; and Firestone Park Community Center, 1480 Girard St.
The enrollment events are being coordinated by the city of Akron and Summit County, along with the Summit County health department.
The city and county decided to work together to provide assistance for residents who don’t have a computer and those who prefer in-person help, said Billy Soule, Akron’s assistant to the mayor for community relations.
“We wanted to be sure our residents had an opportunity to sign up,” Soule said. “If we have a need to open more or expand the hours, we will.”
Open enrollment began Oct. 1 and continues through March 31, 2014, for the new Health Insurance Marketplace created through the Affordable Care Act, the federal health-care reform law commonly called Obamacare.
Consumers who apply for a plan before Dec. 15 will have coverage effective Jan. 1.
Under the law, most Americans are required to get health insurance or face a potential financial penalty when they file their taxes for 2014.
The marketplace, also known as an exchange, is a computerized system that allows consumers and small businesses to compare plans and determine whether they qualify for financial help from the federal government in getting coverage.
During Tuesday’s enrollment event at the Lawton Street Community Center, Summit County Deputy Health Commissioner Donna Skoda helped Rootring create a username and password for the federal website. But repeated attempts to log in were unsuccessful at several of the available computers.
Ohio opted against starting its own health exchange, so residents must use the federally run site if they want to compare options and apply for potential subsidies.
Users of the federal website repeatedly have been met with errors or messages urging them to be patient since it launched earlier this month.
Rootring said he planned to try logging onto the website in the middle of the night, when he’s hoping fewer people will be using the system.
“The best thing is staying off during the peak hours,” agreed Kristi Kato, an accreditation and quality assurance coordinator for Summit County Public Health. “Expect to wait.”
Kato used her iPhone to help another uninsured, self-employed area woman access the website after the computers kept getting stuck waiting.
The woman will get the details about available plans — including costs after qualifying for federal subsidies — mailed to her, Kato said.
“She can make an educated decision about what she wants,” Kato said.
For anyone having problems logging on the federal website, Soule urged them to be persistent.
“Keep on trying,” he said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.