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Organizations educate citizens about Health Insurance Marketplace

The state website reads, “In Tennessee, the Health Insurance Marketplace is run by the federal government. You can enroll in and find more information about the Marketplace at healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596.” 


That’s the extent of information the state is providing citizens about the Health Insurance Marketplace. However, local nonprofit agencies and activist groups are getting the word out. 
 
Organizations including Tennessee Primary Care Association, Mercy Community Healthcare and Prohealth Rural Services, Inc., all house “certified application counselors” and/or federally-funded “navigators” to help applicants. CACs undergo five hours minimum of training and navigators receive 20 to be federally certified so they can guide the public in choosing healthcare options in the marketplace. Navigators are charged with community outreach and public education.
A searchable comprehensive list of organizations authorized to advise citizens on enrollment is available at http://localhelp.healthcare.gov.
 
Mercy enrolls first applicant 
Amidst the sporadic functionality of the federal government’s Marketplace website, Mercy Community Healthcare managed to enroll its first applicant Oct. 8.
 
“I said to my first applicant, ‘Do you want to be my guinea pig,’” said Hannah Smith, Outreach and Enrollment Counselor and CAC at Mercy. “It took us two hours.” Smith said she was excited to finally help. 
 
Despite the website’s well-documented woes, Smith remains anxious to help the dozens of applicants who have contacted the center since the site’s commencement Oct. 1. She was hired through a federal grant supporting community outreach positions.
 
Five employees at Mercy have also been trained as a CAC in order to help those who wish to explore and/or enroll in the marketplace for more affordable health care. 
 
“We’ve received several dozen calls and visits about the marketplace, and are currently going down our waiting lists as the website becomes available,” Smith said. “It’s really rewarding to hear people get really excited about qualifying for lower premiums and receiving great care.”
 
Fears addressed
Navigator Nikki Viverette of Tennessee Primary Care Association, whose organization has received hundreds of inquiries, said that much of her job is easing concerns regarding information they’ve gathered through the media or family and friends. 
 
“The first thing people are scared of is that they have to get rid of their current insurance. The second is the uninsured think it will be too expensive. However, most applicants, in my experience have been delighted with far better scenarios, especially premiums, than they estimated.” 
 
Some left without healthcare
However, Smith said that it’s unfortunate to see applicants not qualify for healthcare options due to Tennessee’s decision not to expand Medicaid.
 
“Some people will remain without care.” 
 
Gov. Bill Haslam opted not to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid coverage to include those below the 138 percent poverty line. This portion of the state’s population neither qualifies for federal Medicaid funding nor expanded benefits through the ACA.

A state “Health Care Finance and Administration FY 2014 Budget Presentation” notes that a “doughnut hole” in coverage still omits tens of thousands suffering from abject poverty. 
 
Viverette said they have had to inform some applicants that they are not eligible for coverage. 
 
“It’s the hardest part of the job.”
 
Viverette said Tennessee Primary Care informs applicants that they won’t be penalized for not having health insurance. Then she sends them to the closest help center and suggests they share their story with a state legislator.
 
However, Smith assures them that Mercy Clinic still sees uninsured patients at reduced co-pay options. The center also helps patients apply to purchase reduced priced prescriptions.
 
Activists educate
Meanwhile, supporters of the Affordable Care Act gathered at the Williamson County Health Department last week to offer information. Although the department was not affiliated with the gathering, the group met outside of the building’s entrance to share information about the Marketplace. 
 
“It’s important to educate. We want to spread awareness and be a link to information in the community,” said Colleen Janus, Middle Tennessee Regional Director of Organizing for Action.
 
Organizing for Action supports initiatives by President Barack Obama regarding health care, gun violence prevention and immigration.
 
About six out of 10 people can get healthcare for under $100 per month, she said.
 
“People with preexisting conditions and those who are uninsured can now have affordable healthcare options,” Janus said. “We can’t afford not to have the Affordable Care Act.” 
 
Kerri Bartlett is Assistant Editor of the Williamson Herald and can be reached at kerri@williamsonherald.com

Posted on: 10/17/2013

 
 

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