Enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace aka the “exchange” for uninsured people at Health.Care.gov sounds easy enough – create an account, apply, pick a plan and enroll in coverage that will start as early as January 1, 2014.
However, since its launch last month, the Healthcare.gov site has been plagued with problems.
Serving as the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment portal, individuals and small business owners have the opportunity to compare healthcare plans and prices that cover essential benefits, pre-existing conditions and more based on their specific situation prior to enrolling.
With the census bureau reporting that 15.4 percent of the US population – or 48 million people – were without healthcare insurance last year, the site is obviously going to be very busy. Most people must have health coverage in 2014 or pay a fee (the penalty is $95 per adult, $47.50 per child or 1 percent of income – whichever is higher), and Marketplace enrollment ends March 31, 2014.
Beyond that, it’s likely that many of the uninsured have limited or no Internet access. Libraries across the country, for example, have been bombarded with people attempting to access the Marketplace online.
While there are four ways people can get coverage information under the Affordable Care Act, the only way to actually enroll is online. Options include:
• Online - go to healthcare.gov/marketplace/ and select individuals & families or small business owners then your state to get started.
• By phone - call 1.800.318.2596 to ask any questions and complete the entire application process (an operator will enroll you online).
• By mail – send in a completed paper application (available online and you will also need to go online to enroll once you receive an eligibility notice in the mail).
• In person - visit a trained counselor or “navigator” in your community to get information, apply and enroll in person (the navigator will enroll you online).
Across the country, hospitals and other health centers are employing these trained counselors to help people “navigate” the process online at the Marketplace.
In July, the US Health and Human Services Department awarded $150 million in grants to 1,159 health centers across the nation so that they could enroll uninsured Americans in the new health coverage options made available by the Affordable Care Act.
In Indiana, 19 awards totaling $2,336,025 were distributed through 102 sites that served 285,940 patients last year, 39.76 percent of them uninsured. With their Outreach and Enrollment funding, these health centers anticipate hiring 47 additional workers, who will assist 87,995 people with enrollment into affordable health insurance coverage.
The people responsible for administering these grants at two local health center sites - Beryl Fitzpatrick, Director of Operations and Compliance at Community HealthNet in Gary and Sofia Mendez Bork, Director of Human Resources at HealthLinc Community Health Center in Valparaiso – reached out to the Center of Workforce Innovations, Inc. (CWI) in Valparaiso for assistance.
“These health centers are excited to help individuals in their communities take advantage of the benefits of new health insurance coverage options with trained, face-to-face assistance onsite,” CWI’s Vice President of Workforce Initiatives Robyn Minton said. “Our role was to help them get their new employees ready and prepared.”
To get started, potential employees were identified through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s WorkOne database.
“WorkOne connects job seekers and employers by matching skills, experience and training opportunities with jobs and career paths,” Minton explained. “While the role of the Community Healthcare Worker has been around forever, the Affordable Care Act had changed some of the requirements in the job description – the legislation actually professionalized these positions. As a result, we worked with Ivy Tech on the training and certification.”
According to WorkOne, when it comes to expanding coverage to those who lack insurance, a Patient Access Specialist (Certified Healthcare Access Associate, CHAA) wears many hats but the main focus is on providing excellent customer service support in the community and hospitals. These specialists must have strong communication and telephone skills, an understanding of medical terminology and the human body and must know what medical options are available to patients.
With a projected salary range of $23,000 to $32,000, Patient Access Specialists can work in Community Health Centers doing either in-reach to patients who come in to the facilities or outreach to urban, rural and other types of vulnerable populations. Patient Access Specialists can also work in hospitals in the admissions/registration areas.
Fifty-three men and women attended the first 3-day training session tailor-made to prepare them for the test to become a certified state navigator at the end of September.
“Prior to this program getting up and running, the only training available in the state was in Indianapolis,” Minton added. “It’s always very exciting when you have the opportunity to match people with training and put them to work right away. I am amazed by the work both of these companies do in NWI. It was fun working with them to get the workers they needed.”