Navigators seeing more calls on health exchanges

GARY, Ind. (AP) — McKindra Gibbs is an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. Since 2011, she had received health insurance through her dad’s plan under a provision of the Affordable Care Act allowing children under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans.

But since turning 26 last December, the Gary resident has been without insurance. Her employer offers a plan, but it is out of her price range.

Wheatfield resident Richard Nowak owns a small business, but his health care costs have skyrocketed in recent years. He’s hoping the health care exchange will help lower costs for himself and his employees.

Valparaiso resident Michael Rider lost his job of 33 years more than a year ago, and he’s been without insurance ever since.

“I’ve just basically been winging it,” Rider told the Post-Tribune (http://bit.ly/HMKGBF ). “Knock on wood, I’ve been pretty healthy.”

All three have submitted applications for health insurance through the health exchange marketplace. Local navigators — people trained to explain the new law and help consumers take advantage of it — are finding ways to bypass the troubled healthcare.gov website in order to do their jobs.

They sometimes call the healthcare.gov hotline at (800) 318-2596 to complete the application process. Or they fill out paper applications.

Gibbs decided to look for a plan with the assistance of Community Hospital financial counselor Deanita Anguiano.

After completing the login process, an error message popped up on healthcare.gov twice. So Anguiano called a healthcare.gov operator who was able to complete the application process with Gibbs.

At the end of the 30-minute session, Gibbs was told she would receive paperwork in the mail in about three weeks listing her insurance options, their cost, and which tax credits she might be eligible for.

Gibbs said she wishes the process would have been a little smoother.

“It makes me feel a little uneasy, but I’m not mad because they’re trying to get through it as best they can,” Gibbs said.

Anguiano and fellow navigator Yvette Hernandez said the process seems to be getting better weekly.

“We saw our first tax credit with the exact amount (on Tuesday),” Hernandez said. “But it’s really hit-or-miss once you get past the login.”

One ongoing — and unanswered — question is how the alternative application process will delay the approval process for applicants. The sign-up period already has been extended by a month — to March 31, 2014 — and those who don’t sign up by Jan. 1 won’t face a penalty.

President Barack Obama has brought in a “tech surge” to try and clean up the website problems by the end of November.

Anguiano said the first applicant she was able to help still hasn’t received paperwork in the mail.

HealthLinc Outreach and Enrollment Manager Lauren Lamb said as of a week ago, they’ve completed 240 applications. The center is gearing up its enrollment efforts this month through coffee chats and other informational meetings.

“Our phone call volume has been huge,” Lamb said. “I get about 30 to 35 calls a day; some of it is questions about the applications, setting up appointments; and some of it is people who want to know how the law will affect them.”

At a recent Friday afternoon session, Lamb gave a presentation on the basic components of the law to about 20 people. Questions ranged from how to estimate 2014 earnings to how large a policy’s doctor network will be. At the close, Lamb handed out paper applications to attendees and offered to mail them or set up an appointment with an navigator.

Dr. Janet Seabrook, executive director of Gary-based Community HealthNet, said the center is completing an average of 10 applications per day.

Seabrook has been partnering with several school districts, churches, and other organizations about getting word out about the insurance exchanges.

Nowak said rising insurance rates in recent years have impeded his ability to reinvest in his business, Checkered Flag Imports in Gary.

The mandate for businesses with more than 25 employees to provide insurance coverage doesn’t take effect until 2015 and wouldn’t affect Nowak’s business , but he said he’s looking into a Small Business Administration program that might provide more affordable group coverage.

“We have about five employees with coverage,” Nowak said. “Both my business partner and I have had major medical events recently; I had cancer and he’s had heart issues. It’s really gotten expensive to have insurance in this country.”

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Information from: Post-Tribune, http://www.post-trib.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Post-Tribune.

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