Expanding Access for Uninsured Ohioans Tackles Tough Health Issues
Ohio ranks 40th in the nation in terms of total population health, according to a 2014 United Health Foundation report. Individual health indicators as reported by various national organizations paint a decidedly grim picture:
- Ohio life expectancy is 77.8 years, 1.1 years less than the national average;
- Our rates of overweight and obese adults/individuals and adult smokers exceed national averages;
- More than 1 million Ohioans have diabetes, and the rate of diabetes jumped from 10 percent to 11.7 percent in just one year in 2012; and
- Ohio has a higher-than-average infant mortality rate, and more than twice the number of black babies die compared to white babies.
While these statistics alone are stark enough, their significance is compounded by the fact that 1 million Ohioans lack access to affordable health insurance. This has resulted in too many Ohioans with chronic diseases delaying doctors’ visits or foregoing them altogether.
Research shows a strong link between health insurance coverage and access to care leading to improved health. Health insurance is a ticket to services at doctors’ offices, where preventive screenings and care often are provided with minimal or no co-pays.
That is why more than 250 organizations across the state – the Ohio Network for Health Coverage and Enrollment supported by the Philanthropy Ohio Health Initiative – are working together in the areyoucoveredohio.org network to help uninsured Ohioans learn more about their health insurance options and get them signed up by the February 15, 2015 enrollment deadline for the Health Insurance Marketplace or anytime throughout the year for Medicaid.
Our target is the 1 million uninsured Ohioans, many of whom live in traditionally underserved areas such as communities of color and rural areas. areyoucoveredohio.org operates in all 88 Ohio counties and offers free assistance, both on the phone and in face-to-face meetings near where clients live. As they did for 37,000 Ohioans last year, these organizations answer questions or walk people through the entire process of Health Insurance Marketplace shopping and enrollment.
These programs provide new hope. More than 150,000 Ohioans are now insured through the federal Marketplace, and at least 150,000 more have free or low-cost health insurance through Ohio’s Medicaid expansion. Of those who signed up in the Health Insurance Marketplace, 4 out of 5 received financial assistance on paying premiums.
Time is short for those not yet covered, but fortunately there are now 16 available health insurance plans in Ohio, up from 12 available last year. Participants still need to ensure they have access to the needed doctors, treatments and hospitals close to where they live.
Affordable monthly premiums are only part of the story, though. The fundamental public health benefits from expanding health insurance will lead to a healthier Ohio. This transformation in health insurance access won’t occur overnight. But each year we can see accessibility improving, helping more Ohioans obtain the insurance, doctors and hospitals they need for better health outcomes – a key goal of many of our members here at Philanthropy Ohio and a focus for our Health Initiative.
Claudia Y.W. Herrold