While I’ve been busy with other things, I let this issue raised at ALA slip past unnoticed. Issues in library world don’t go unnoticed for very long, especially when they deal with government intrusion. Apparently, during ALA 2013 Conference a video was played in which there was a White House appeal to public librarians to help Americans understand the new Affordable Healthcare Act insurance system that goes into effect whenever – maybe. This federal initiative to get public libraries involved in assisting people to sign up goes into effect October 1.
As much as I dislike relying on news media for any valid information, a Washington Times online article “Librarian foot soldiers enlisted to help with Obamacare enrollment” published June 29 states:
CHICAGO — The nation’s librarians will be recruited to help people get signed up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Up to 17,000 U.S. libraries will be part of the effort to get information and crucial computer time to the millions of uninsured Americans who need to get coverage under the law. The undertaking will be announced Sunday in Chicago at the annual conference of the American Library Association, according to federal officials ….
Libraries equipped with public computers and Internet access already serve as a bridge across the digital divide, so it made sense to get them involved, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Libraries will be particularly important in conservative states that are not making much effort to promote the health law’s opportunities.
In Texas, the Dallas library system’s home page has linked to HealthCare.gov — the revamped federal website that is the hub for health law information. Embedding the widget on their sites is another way some libraries may choose to get involved, said Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Some libraries may decide to set aside some public computers for people seeking health insurance or extend time limits on computers, Hildreth said. Some may work with community health centers on educational events. Those will be local decisions with each library deciding how to participate.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is contracting with the Online Computer Library Center to develop an online toolkit and training webinars for librarians, Hildreth said. Librarians are likely to get questions on the health law from the public.
“Frankly whether we’re prepared or not, it’s going to happen, so the best way for us to serve the public is to prepare ahead of time,” Hildreth said.
Lissa Staley, a librarian in Topeka, Kan., specializes in health information, and already is helping people figure out their insurance options.
“I talked to a woman this morning who said, ‘I’m a single mom. I make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and my employer will only let me work part time.’ I gave her my card and we’re going to sort through some of her options,” Staley said.
“It’s never just a straightforward question,” Staley said. “It’s always a life story and we help sort through the pieces of where we can help.”
There are several disturbing issues raised by this report, and several unanswered questions about how and how much.
I understand that IMLS is a federal government agency that is required to carry out whatever mandates they are given by the White House, but is it really a local public library’s or librarian’s role to become an insurance counselor to the public? If the Topeka librarian was quoted accurately, she is assuming that role. Good for her. If that’s the way she chooses to serve her library users, and her boss, Board and community agree then that’s great for them to devote library resources to that project. But that’s just one library. What about the 17,000 other libraries who supposedly are being enlisted for the cause?
Is this federal program any different than when libraries used to provide federal tax forms? The IRS provided libraries with the forms to make available to library users. Everybody knew they could get forms “at the library.” But that’s all it was!
Librarians were not and were not expected to be tax advisors. Organizations might come to the library to offer tax filing assistance to citizens, but NOT LIBRARIANS!! If the IRS – still the culprit agency in charge of ObamaCare – wants to provide healthcare insurance information to libraries, fine, no problem. But the White House and the ALA teaming up to encourage libraries and librarians to roll out this new federal program is wrong.
At the LISNews blog the issue was posted on July 2, and some discussion followed. I suspect the discussion was so resistant to helping the White House that it has already dwindled off now. Some of the comments were:
I wouldn’t have the foggiest clue as to how to tell people which insurance they need to sign up for. How much training are we going to be given on this? Because I can just tell you right now, the people who are signing up for insurance aren’t going to know what insurance they will need and will expect us to figure it out for them. Sorry, but considering how confusing health insurance is, I wouldn’t know where to tell them to begin.
Have a set of useful websites with additional information on them (often to be found on government websites to help people) and steer people onto those sites. Providing information and access time doesn’t have to mean sitting there with them doing it.
‘Finding books about “rashes on their crotch” is far different from someone filling out complicated online health insurance forms which might require hours of work.’
Indeed. One is part of our job and one isn’t. We can do what we can for them but we are not specialists so it’s madness to think we should even try to be.
The chances are there will not be the computer resources available in public libraries to fill out the forms required under the new health care law. Librarians can not answer questions about which coverage options a patron may need, anymore than they can answer income tax questions. Was the ALA consulted? Not all public libraries are wallowing in computer resources.
All of these issues are valid and demonstrate a serious impact on public library resources. Did ALA or IMLS or anyone else even stop to consider this fact? Maybe it just doesn’t matter to those who are rolling out this federal program. “Just do it and make the best of it.” How typical of federal demands on public resources that don’t belong to them. Is IMLS providing funds for libraries to implement this program? Of course not! Is IMLS providing and training to implement this program? Of course not! What is ALA doing to provide funds or training? Well, I see one webinar being offered by one organization – Webjunction is offering one webinar on the impact of new healthcare laws and the library. But it’s already full, so better luck next time.
SafeLibraries blog posted some information and posed pertinent concerns on July 5, “Librarians Refuse ALA Obamacare Push; Wanted: Video of President Obama Speech at ALA Conference; Lenny Kravitz’s Message for Librarians.”
Despite the American Library Association’s [ALA] support for equal access and free speech, ALA agreed to allow the President to make a video statement to hundreds of librarians at the annual ALA convention, then to never display nor distribute it ever again. Some librarians bristle at this and related ALA problems with mishandling the message;….
“The Sellout: American Libraries to Promote Obamacare,” by Lindsey Grudnicki, National Review Online, 1 July 2013:
So the public library – the institution whose foundational principles are the preservation of intellectual freedom and the unbiased promotion of learning – will become politicized to advance the Obama administration’s agenda.
This agreement between the ALA and the Department of Health and Human Services violates the so-called “Library Bill of Rights,” which declares that “libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues” and that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” The partnership essentially dictates that librarians blindly lead those seeking healthcare to the welfare fountain and encourage them to drink – no matter the consequences, and no matter the myriad of concerns raised about the program. “All points of view” about the Affordable Care Act will not be represented; the proscribed materials (HealthCare.gov, marketplace.cms.gov, etc.) will clearly not offer true “health care literacy.”
What does ALA have to say to all this negativity toward helping the federal government implement new laws?
ALA PRESS OFFICER JAZZY WRIGHT
2 JUL 2013 3:14 PM
I want to apologize for the confusion. The partnership between IMLS and the Center for Medicaid Services means that both groups will work in the next coming months to prepare librarians for the number of patrons who will need help enrolling in the Affordable Care Act. ALA is only providing resources on the health law so that libraries can fulfill their mission to make information available to their patrons.
Many of you have attended the ALA Conference “Libraries and Health Insurance: Preparing for Oct 1” on Sunday. The session was recorded and will be available for sale soon. We’re sending updates to all of our ALA Washington Office subscribers: http://capwiz.com/ala/mlm/signup/ You can also get Washington Office news at http://www.districtdispatch.org.
Additionally, IMLS announced that they will work with Webjunction to host online educational seminars about the new health enrollment requirements (see this press release http://www.imls.gov/imls_and_centers_for_medicare_and_medicaid_services_to_partner_with_libraries.aspx).
American Library Association, Washington Office
Bottom Line: I agree with StephenK who commented on LISNews blog, “Alas I don’t see this ending well.”