By William K. Alcorn
Area agencies are scrambling to gear up to help people negotiate the enrollment process for the Affordable Care Act’s private health insurance marketplace, which begins Oct. 1.
Health coverage under the ACA begins Jan. 1, 2014.
Open enrollment, the period during which eligible individuals can shop for and enroll in a health plan in the private insurance marketplace, also called the exchange, runs through March 31, 2014.
During that period, people can compare plans and costs and find which is the best deal that they can afford. But for many, the enrollment process will not be easy.
The immediate problem is, according to some agency leaders, there is not enough information available to help clients before the fast-approaching kick-off date.
Some 1.3 million uninsured Ohioans can use the competitive marketplace to shop for health insurance coverage, according to Ohio Consumers for Health.
“We’re really just starting to figure out what it means to the agency and how we can help our clients who come to us for financial advice and help negotiating the enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. We need to learn how to connect people to people who can help them,” said Nancy Voitus, executive director of Catholic Charities Regional Agency.
The information is voluminous, and in some cases incomplete and in conflict with other federal requirements, said Atty. George P. Millich Jr. of the law firm, Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, Ltd.
Millich has been studying the ACA for several months and has presented numerous seminars on the subject to businesses and the Mahoning County Bar Association.
Many people are going to need help sifting though the information, and because most of the data is online, they’ll need access to a computer and the Internet, said Marilyn Montes, human resources director for the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership.
But, help is on the way.
The directors of United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley have scheduled Atty. Hugh F. Daly III, Ohio state director for Enroll America, to speak at their Oct. 8 meeting and provide information about the insurance marketplace and how they can help clients enroll in an ACA insurance plan.
Enroll Ohio is a nonprofit organization committed to maximizing the number of uninsured Americans who access health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, according to its website.
That same day, Daly also will present a public seminar, “Countdown to Coverage: Is Youngstown Ready for the Health Insurance Marketplace?” from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Austintown Branch, 600 S. Raccoon Road.
Daly’s seminar offers information on coverage options, Medicaid expansion, navigators, health center outreach and enrollment workers, and the role of certified application counselors.
The Public Library also is hosting a seminar, “The Affordable Health Care Law: What Does It Mean for You?” led by a representative of AARP at 2 p.m. Oct. 22 at its Boardman Branch, 7680 Glenwood Ave., and at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at its Poland Branch, 311 S. Main St.
Access Health Mahoning Valley will use a one-year, $93,146 contract awarded the agency by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to hire a navigator to provide ACA enrollment help to residents in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Also, One Health Ohio (formerly Ohio North East Health Systems Inc.), which operate clinics in Youngstown, Warren and Alliance, received a $127,937 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to hire additional employees to assist with outreach and enrollment efforts for uninsured Ohioans eligible for ACA coverage; and to help them understand their options.
William Adams, director of AHMV, said he also plans to develop a corps of volunteer certified application counselors. The navigator will receive online training and must undergo a criminal-background check, he said.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks was awarded an approximately $1.95 million Federal Navigator Grant by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to raise awareness about the federal-facilitated health insurance marketplace and connect Ohioans with assistance in enrolling in plans, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, association executive.
“We know from past experience that it takes three to five different encounters with individuals before they feel comfortable making decisions,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
The health insurance available through the Affordable Care Act is not free: It involves premiums and co-pays and deductibles, she said.
What people should be doing now is gathering information needed to make comparisons before enrolling. They will need their annual income for 2013; projected 2014 income; medications; number of people in their household and their ages; and decide whether they want higher premiums or better coverage, she said.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has declined congressional health insurance for nearly two decades, keeping a 1992 campaign promise to decline a health plan until similar coverage is available to all Americans, said he will enter the private health insurance marketplace during the enrollment period.
In a recent conference call, Brown and Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, discussed a new Families USA analysis, found online at Http://familiesusa2.org/assets/pdfs/new-health-coverage/ohio.pdf., that outlines the marketplace’s benefits and how Ohioans can obtain and secure those benefits as of 2014.
Ohioans can go to www.healthcare.gov to read about their options or live chat with an expert. They can also call the helpline at 1-800-318-2596, Brown said.