Anne Frickle, Martha Stahl and Jen Gross

Anne Frickle, Martha Stahl and Jen Gross, all of Planned Parenthood of Montana, hold an education and outreach session for potential enrollees of the Affordable Care Act at Billings Parmly Library on Monday. The federal government shutdown was blamed for poor attendance at the event. 

The federal government shutdown is being blamed in part for a lackluster turnout Monday for a four-hour forum designed to inform and educate the public about the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The forum, held at Parmly Billings Library, was organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before the government shutdown.

Due to the shutdown, HHS was unable to publicize the event and the two representatives scheduled to attend the event were no-shows.

There was even confusion among local health care providers about whether it would be held.

Certified application counselors and navigators, positions designed to help people understand and use the new health care marketplace, were on hand from both RiverStone Health and Planned Parenthood of Montana, but were idle much of the time.

By day’s end, less than a half-dozen people had attended, and RiverStone Health officials left early.

“The shutdown has slowed a lot of processes, and this is one of them,” said Martha Stahl, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana. “But it’s important that people know and realize that they don’t have to be enrolled today. They have time. People are feeling pressured and stressed and they don’t need to.”

Yes, it was slow, but if even one person received the help needed to gain insurance Monday, it was worth it, said Anne Frickle, a trained enrollment specialist for Planned Parenthood.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Frickle said. “I’m here to demystify the situation. We’re not here to sell the plans. We’re just here to help.”

Planned Parenthood of Montana held a similar forum in Missoula on Oct. 1, which attracted seven people and small-business owners.

Planned Parenthood of Montana received a grant of nearly $300,000 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to hire professionals to help

navigate the education and enrollment process associated with the Affordable Care Act.

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Stahl said Planned Parenthood would be conducting outreach and education with or without the help of grant money, because getting residents connected to health care dovetails with the organization’s mission.

Planned Parenthood of Montana is the state’s largest provider of reproductive health care and reproductive health advocacy.

Its mission is to provide, promote and protect access to quality reproductive and sexual health care.

At its five health centers across the state, Planned Parenthood of Montana provides a range of education programs and health care services, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, emergency contraception, gynecological checkups and Pap tests, breast exams, pregnancy testing and options information and health counseling.

More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood services are preventive.

Planned Parenthood of Montana serves nearly 16,000 patients across Montana’s 56 counties.

“You don’t need to be part of Planned Parenthood or that target population to get help,” Stahl said. “We are open to talking to anyone.”

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