For five years, Kathy Steinwand has been paying for all her medical care rather than spending nearly $900 per month for insurance.
Steinwand, 57, of Akron, lost her health insurance when her benefits were cut at work and her extended coverage through the program called COBRA eventually ran out.
She bought insurance on her own for a while — until the cost rose to $895 per month.
“There was no way we could afford it, so we took our chances,” she said.
When she heard help was available at the JobCenter on Tuesday signing up for coverage with federal subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, Steinwand showed up an hour before the doors opened at noon.
With assistance from Elizabeth James, a certified application counselor from Summit County Public Health, Steinwand signed up for a plan with a $3,500 deductible from CareSource that will cost her $232.79 per month after qualifying for a $288 federal subsidy.
The coverage will let her see her primary-care doctor for $15, get routine dental care for $25 and fill a generic prescription for $10.
“That’s a big load off your mind,” she said.
Tuesday’s event was the first of several planned by the health department and AxessPointe Community Health Center, a federally supported, sliding-scale practice, to provide information and enrollment assistance for the new insurance plans, as well as the Medicaid program.
Open enrollment began Oct. 1 and continues through March 31 for the new Health Insurance Marketplace plans. Consumers who apply for a plan before Dec. 15 will have coverage effective Jan. 1.
Under the federal health reform 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 to compare plans and determine whether they qualify for financial help from the federal government paying for getting coverage.
The program’s rollout has been plagued by technical difficulties with the federal website.
But the website appeared to be working without any glitches for the certified applications counselors who were helping about half a dozen people explore their options at the JobCenter early Tuesday afternoon.
“Today the website worked phenomenally,” James said. “I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed.”
Beginning Monday, individuals will be able to go onto a state-run website — http://benefits.ohio.gov — to apply for expanded Medicaid coverage.
Barring a court ruling reversing the decision by the state Controlling Board, Medicaid eligibility for adults in Ohio will be boosted starting Jan. 1 to 138 percent of the federal poverty standard, or $15,856 for an individual.
Currently, Ohio adults without children are ineligible for Medicaid, except for low-income disabled residents. And in some families, children qualify for coverage but their parents don’t.
Several of the people who showed up at the Job Center were trying to find out whether they might qualify for Medicaid after the expansion.
Others, like Mary Armbruster, were just looking for more affordable insurance options.
Armbruster, 55, of Springfield Township, has been going without insurance since July, when she couldn’t afford to pay for her individual plan anymore.
Her husband gets medical coverage through his disability benefits, but she had to buy a plan with a $5,000 deductible.
She said she knows she needs to get health insurance again, not just because it’s required under the federal law.
“I want to have it,” she said.
AxessPointe and Summit County Public Health will have another session from noon to 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the JobCenter, 1040 E. Tallmadge Ave., Akron.
In addition, certified application counselors from AxessPointe will be available from 3 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 and 4 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 at the Barberton Public Library, 602 W. Park Ave.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.