They understand the Dewey Decimal system, so why not a massive health care overhaul?
Late last month, reports revealed that the White House has turned to librarians for help in rolling out President Barack Obama’s health care reform, known as Obamacare.
Idaho librarians will assist in the effort and will help the patrons navigate the ins and outs of the potentially confusing Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Congress passed in March 2010 but won’t be fully implemented until January 2014.
Karen Yother, head of the Idaho Library Association and children’s librarian at the Hayden Library in north Idaho, confirmed to IdahoReporter.com last week that her colleagues will assist bewildered patrons start the process of buying health coverage.
“We’re here to educate the public,” Yother said.
Educating the public could mean a myriad of things, she explained, including helping low-income patrons learn the basics of Internet navigation or presenting more information about the law’s provisions, which requires Americans buy health insurance starting Jan. 1, 2014, or pay a penalty to the federal government.
It will not mean, however, providing individual guidance to patrons on which health insurance plans they should buy, if they should join a government-run health program or take federal subsidies that will be available through the health insurance exchange, an online portal for buying health coverage under construction by state officials.
The Idaho Library Association is partnering with Blue Cross of Idaho to hold trainings for librarians who might have their own questions about how to assist Idahoans. The association trained 22 librarians two weeks ago and plans to train another 22 this week.
Blue Cross will provide educational materials to libraries, including fliers and bookmarks. Later this year the association plans to hold a health literacy week for libraries statewide.
Not everyone is thrilled that librarians are hitting the frontlines on Obama’s behalf.
State Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, pushed a bill in Idaho’s 2011 legislative session that would have essentially banned what the state’s librarians are planning. The measure, which fell victim to Gov. Butch Otter’s veto stamp, would have prevented any public workers from implementing any parts of Obamacare.
Barbieri told IdahoReporter.com Monday that he’s troubled that the librarians are taking up the health reform mantel. “Any time we use public resources for private gain, that should be a cause for concern,” Barbieri warned.
Barbieri’s miffed that Blue Cross of Idaho, which stands to gain from development of the exchange marketplace and other facets of the reform law, is asking librarians to stand in the trenches, calling it “disconcerting.”
Josh Jordan, corporate communication specialist with Blue Cross of Idaho, told IdahoReporter.com Monday that his organization simply wants an efficient avenue for informing as many Gem State residents as possible about Obamacare provisions.
“We reached out to the ILA because, with branches all over the state, libraries can reach a broad spectrum of residents across Idaho and serve as a resource to the community—providing educational resources about the ACA and access to computers to access more information and the exchange,” Jordan wrote in an email.
He promised that the materials Blue Cross will soon deliver to Idaho libraries aren’t pushing the carrier’s products and services. Yother said the agreement is merely a public service and not a maneuver to rally around specific politicians, policies or health carriers.
“For us, it’s not about politics,” Yother said. “It’s not about choosing one side or the other.”
In any case, the army of librarians will have their work cut out for them. A poll conducted earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that a whopping 42 percent of Americans are unaware that Obamacare is still the law.
“People don’t realize this is actually happening,” Yother said. “It’s going to be the law and you must have health insurance.”
Still, Barbieri is saddened that public entities, from the governor’s office to local libraries, are wrapping themselves in Obamacacre. “It was very disappointing at the time,” Barbieri said of Otter’s veto of the anti-Obamacare bill.
“It was too bad we couldn’t muster enough support to show we’re serious,” Barbieri said, mourning a failed chance to override Otter’s veto in 2011.