ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- The N.C. Institute of Medicine reports more than 1.5 million uninsured people in North Carolina, and agencies all over the Triad are preparing to help people looking for healthcare coverage.
Whether or not you agree with the Affordable Healthcare Act, or "Obamacare," the law says everyone over 18 must have health insurance of some sort by March 31, 2014.
Enrollment for the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace starts October 1st and is one option for someone looking for health coverage.
The Marketplace is an online resource where you can compare plans issued by private companies.
Those who are on Medicaid, the state's low-income insurance plan, and people who already have insurance do not have to check out the federal health exchange unless they just want to look at alternate options.
Alamance County Director of the Department of Social Services Susan Osborne says uninsured, low-income individuals or families may first want to see if they are eligible for Medicaid insurance.
If you do not qualify for Medicaid or are simply uninsured and need a plan, Osborne said there will be people available to help you navigate the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace to explore your coverage options.
"You'll want to ask – what are my healthcare costs? So that you can decide, do I want a higher premium or a lower deductible? Do I want to limit my out of pocket expenses or is it more important my monthly premiums be lower? Those are sort of things you have to know when you start to navigate this," explained Osborne.
DSS is partnered with the Health Department and other agencies to make sure certified assistance counselors and navigators are available to help.
Alamance Libraries are also preparing to field questions about the Affordable Care Act.
Heather Holley-Hall with Branch Services explained, "The libraries are involved because we do have the public computers and people come to us for information and assistance with the computers. So we knew we'd probably be seeing some folks who don't have computer access at home but are finding themselves needing to get signed up for health care."
Holley-Hall pointed out library employees cannot and will not advise individuals about what plan they should choose or whether they should sign up with the Marketplace or another Health Insurance Company.
"But we can help you get a free email address, navigate back and forth on the website, make sure you submit all the proper forms. Our job is to assist," she added.
Right now the mantra for all of these agencies seems to be that October 1st is the beginning, not the end.
"You have until the end of March next year to sign up for health insurance, because of the individual mandate," said Osborne. "If you want coverage and insurance through the Marketplace to start on January first of next year, you must sign up by December 14th of this year," she explained.
The non-profit Legal Aid will also be offering navigation and help in Guilford County and throughout the state.
For more information about the number of uninsured people in North Carolina counties, visit http://www.nciom.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/County-Level_Estimates_10-11.pdf