Mari Bar wanted to find more affordable health insurance through the often-criticized federal health reform law.

Bar, 64, of Tallmadge, has been buying her own coverage for about $300 a month since she lost her insurance when her employer closed its doors 1½ years ago.

So Bar recently turned to a program at Summit County Public Health to help her navigate the federal website,, and compare her options through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

An hour later, she signed up for a plan with coverage similar to her current plan that will cost her $67 per month with federal subsidies.

“I am very, very pleased,” she said. “I think more people would be pleased, if they only knew what was available.”

The Summit County health department is joining with other local organizations to help residents determine whether they might have options for health coverage during the ongoing open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The health department and AxessPointe Community Health Center, a federally supported, sliding-scale practice, are holding public events beginning this week to provide information and enrollment assistance for the new insurance plans, as well as the Medicaid program.

“We encourage people to come and talk to us, if nothing else,” Summit County Deputy Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said. “It could really help you.”

Open enrollment began Oct. 1 and continues through March 31, 2014, for the new Health Insurance Marketplace plans. Consumers who apply for a plan before Dec. 15 will have coverage effective Jan. 1.

The state also is moving forward with plans to expand Medicaid eligibility beginning in 2014.

Barring a court ruling reversing the decision by the state Controlling Board, Medicaid eligibility for adults will be boosted starting Jan. 1 to 138 percent of the federal poverty standard, or $15,856 for an individual.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for three years for Medicaid patients newly eligible through the expansion in states that opt to raise the income limit to 138 percent of poverty; federal funding then phases down to 90 percent.

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.

Beginning Dec. 9, individuals will be able to go onto a state-run website — — to apply for coverage.

The Summit County Department of Job and Family Services also is accepting paper applications from Summit County residents.

The department is training staff and determining whether extra workers will be needed to handle the applications, said Steve Zimmerman, the department’s assistant director.

“We’re looking to probably process between 6,000 to 8,000 applications through this Medicaid expansion process,” said Heather Yannayon, program manager for the Medicaid expansion rollout in Summit County.

More than 112,200 Summit County residents currently are covered by Medicaid.

For those who are eligible, coverage will be effective retroactive to the first day of the month they are accepted, Yannayon said. Eligibility will be reviewed annually.

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 and small businesses to compare plans and determine whether they qualify for financial help from the federal government in getting coverage.

The program’s rollout has been plagued with technical difficulties with the federal website, as well as concerns about people losing their current coverage.

Elizabeth James, a public health specialist with the Summit County health department, said the agency has been receiving about five to 10 calls per day from people seeking insurance information.

“People don’t understand it,” said James, a certified application counselor.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at