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Counselors begin helping residents enroll in health insurance exchanges

Oct 19, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Trained counselors are ready to help Fremont County residents make sense of Wyoming's health insurance exchange that opened Oct. 1.

"This is a place to compare affordable health care options, but I let (residents) know they don't have to buy it through here, but it's a convenient way to do so," Danielle Allred, a certified counselor with the Wyoming Health Council, said about the exchange.

Similar marketplaces opened nationwide Oct. 1 as a part of the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act.

Allred and others like her help residents apply for insurance through Wyoming's new exchange.

Private companies offer health insurance policies on the exchanges, and consumers can use the system to compare their options.

The state decided to allow the federal government to run its exchange, hosted at Healthcare.gov. Consumers can use the website to apply and shop for insurance, or they can fill out a paper application.

The ACA also established subsides to lower the cost of health insurance purchased through the exchanges.

Navigators

The federal government has contracted with local health care providers and nonprofit organizations to provide counselors to consumers at no cost.

Karla Borders is a navigator working for the Wyoming Senior Citizens, Inc. She said individuals do not need to be involved with her organization or be elderly to receive her help. Navigators typically do not apply on behalf of someone else, but guide consumers through the application process.

Initially, Borders said she has a person come into her office and sit down at a computer she has available for them to use. Then she walks them through the process.

"I would tell them the website to go to, and I basically sit and show them where to go," Borders said. "If they have questions, I am here to answer them."

She emphasized she does not keep any personal information about clients.

If a person needs Borders to apply for him, the client can fill out a consent form to allow Borders to do so.

Borders said she sees individuals by appointment and at educational events.

Other resources also exist within Fremont County.

The Fremont County Community Health Center soon will offer a certified application counselor. The counselor, Judy Strausberger, said she is almost finished with her training, and she plans to be ready and available for clients in about a week.

To become a navigator, Borders went through two weeks of full-day training. She said the lessons went from the basics of health insurance all the way up to the fine points of the ACA and the ways people can sign up for insurance plans through the exchanges.

Her services also will be free of charge and available to anyone.

Applying

For an appointment, Borders said individuals should bring the social security numbers for everyone in the household, income information and current insurance information if applicable.

Strausberger said W-2 forms or pay stubs can be used to verify income.

Borders stressed that individuals do not have to commit to dropping their current insurance before they start the application process on the exchange. They can go through the whole process and see what their options are before deciding to go with a new plan or stick with their current one.

Subsidies to defray the cost of insurance only are available for people who purchase insurance through the exchange, however.

Borders said she has seen an increase in the number of people using the exchanges.

"The calls are starting to trickle in," she said. "I think the first couple weeks people were tentative about it with the shutdown."

Part of the issue was the Healthcare.gov website did not work well when it first opened, and she advised some consumers to wait a couple of weeks to apply because the service was so slow. That is getting better too, Borders said, and she has seen many improvements in the past two weeks.

Other options

For those who do not want to use Healthcare.gov, Borders said she has paper applications available at her office, and individuals can reach Borders to set up an appointment by calling 856-6880 or 1-800-856-4398 or e-mailing her at navmgr@wyoming.com.

The exchange website also features a 24/7 chatline where consumers can exchange text messages with a trained helper. Residents also can call 211 to be directed to a navigator or counselor.

Presentations on exchanges

- On Monday, navigators will be available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Fort Washakie senior center and will give a presentation at Rocky Mountain Hall.

- On Tuesday, navigators will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ethete and Arapahoe senior centers and will give a presentation from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Wyoming Indian High School.

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