JFS workers guide ACA applicants

By Peter H. Milliken



On the first day to seek health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services personnel were figuratively applying the principles of triage to people making inquiries about the act at Oakhill Renaissance Place.

Three county JFS workers, who were trained on the ACA at Ohio Department of Job and Family Services seminars in Columbus, separated people inquiring about the ACA into three broad categories Tuesday.

Parents with children, pregnant women and aged or disabled people were asked to go through JFS’ eligibility determination process for Medicaid, food card and cash assistance.

Single, nondisabled adults without children between age 21 and 65 were asked to go to the federal facilitated marketplace of low-cost health insurance plans at healthcare.gov.

A third group, consisting of those who’ve recently applied for, but been denied Medicaid because their income was too high to qualify, was also directed to that website.

Actual coverage under the ACA will begin Jan. 1.

People who are already served by Medicare or Medicaid need not make any applications for any health care program, but the Ohio Legislature has not decided whether it will expand Medicaid to cover households with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

JFS workers will continue answering face-to-face inquiries about the ACA daily, likely for at least two to three months, at a table in the Oakhill lobby at Entrance B, said Gwendolyn Graves, a county JFS eligibility supervisor.

However, activity was slow on the first day, with that JFS team answering only six inquiries in the first three hours they were assembled in the lobby of the former Forum Health Southside Health Center, where JFS offices are located.

The ACA’s illness prevention emphasis should be a valuable asset to public health, and applicants for coverage should be patient with the new law, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.

“Properly funded, the Affordable Care Act has a public health prevention fund” that will allow local health departments, hospitals and physicians to provide preventive care, she said. “That’s huge. That is exactly where we need to be as a nation. ... If that is properly funded, we will have an opportunity to actually change health,” she said.

The ACA’s goal of “insuring millions of people who have not had the opportunity to have health insurance” and allowing them regular access to a family physician, who can see them at the first sign of illness, will promote good health, she said.

“I believe in it wholeheartedly if it’s properly funded and implemented as it was intended,” Sweeney said of the ACA.

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