Insurance enrollment ongoing for Affordable Care Act

Published 12:11am Sunday, October 6, 2013

NATCHEZ — For those shopping for health insurance through the new marketplaces that were created by the federal Affordable Care Act, it may be a bit overwhelming.

A six-month enrollment period began Tuesday for insurance coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces. But health care professionals say there is no need to panic about signing up for a health insurance plan.

Cover Mississippi Program Manager Jarvis Dortch said his office is fielding calls from people asking about the new health care law.

“Right now we’re taking calls and reassuring (people) that they don’t need to panic,” he said. “Open enrollment goes until March 31. We’re telling them they have plenty of time to find coverage, and there are going to be resources out there they can get in-person or meet with a counselor.”

Cover Mississippi was formed as a new coalition aimed at educating and enrolling Mississippians in the new health insurance marketplace.

The coalition, Dortch said, will likely have events soon in Natchez and other cities across the state to educate people and offer in-person assistance with signing up for insurance.

To contact Cover Mississippi, call 601-353-0845 or 1-877-314-3843.

Natchez Regional Medical Center Business Office Director Angie Carter said paper applications and informational pamphlets about the new insurance options are available at the hospital’s admitting office.

Hospital staff will not be able to help applicants fill out paperwork, though, Carter said. In-person assistance must be provided by trained personnel called “navigators.”

“The application is only five pages long, and it’s not hard at all,” Carter said. “It’s very simple and user-friendly, and it comes with instructions on how to complete it and tells you everything you need to fill it out, like pay stubs and W-2 (forms).”

Catherine Strahan with Hospital Solutions Inc. said the company does not currently have trained navigators to offer assistance but may have them before open enrollment ends.

NRMC contracts with HSI to help uninsured patients find coverage.

A navigator, Strahan said, will essentially review prices and plans with people, much like an insurance agent.

The Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center is in the early stages of coordinating in-person assistance and informational presentations for residents of Concordia Parish and other parishes in the CLAHEC’s region, CLAHEC Chief Executive Office Sharon Womack said.

“What we plan to do is offer navigators that will go into each community and conduct informational presentations about the insurance and what is available,” Womack said. “We will also offer times and locations that people can come in and sign up for one-on-one assistance, but that’s currently in the planning stages.”

Below is a look at who is eligible and what is available in the marketplaces for Mississippi and Louisiana, run by the federal government:

Who can sign up?

If you don’t have insurance or you currently buy your own policy, the marketplace is for you to shop for health care coverage. If you have Medicare, Medicaid or insurance through your job, the marketplace isn’t for you.

Enrollment runs until March 31 for 2014 coverage plans.

Who’s not covered?

Mississippi: Mississippi did not expand its Medicaid program to cover people up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. While mothers, children and the disabled are covered by Medicaid, many poor able-bodied adults are not. Because the exchange does not cover people under the poverty level, they won’t get much help. Also, people in the country illegally are not eligible.

Louisiana: Thousands of Louisiana residents below the poverty line don’t qualify for subsidies to buy coverage because they were expected to get Medicaid through an expansion of the free health care program for the poor.

Gov. Bobby Jindal refused the Medicaid expansion, so those residents are expected to remain uninsured. They do not face penalties for not having insurance.

How do I sign up?

To see the plans being offered and to sign up for coverage, go to the Health Insurance Marketplace at healthcare.gov and select the Mississippi or Louisiana portion of the website. Besides the new exchange-based insurance, the website will also tell you whether you are eligible for free care through Medicaid or if your children are eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Who’s offering coverage?

Mississippi: Two companies are offering plans on Mississippi’s health exchange: Humana Corp. and Magnolia Health Plan, mostly in different counties.

Humana is offering coverage in Adams County.

Louisiana: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is offering health plans through the marketplace in every parish.

The Louisiana Health Cooperative also will offer coverage statewide, but the new nonprofit is still working to get its plans up and running.

Vantage Health Plan will offer plans on the marketplace in many Louisiana parishes.

Humana will offer insurance on the marketplace only in Jefferson Parish.

Plans come in three levels — gold, silver and bronze. Gold plans generally cost more, but require lower payments for doctor visits and other services. Bronze plans have lower premiums, but require a patient to pay more when seeking care.

What will I pay?

Mississippi: Residents of Mississippi will pay an average of $448 a month for a mid-range insurance plan on the exchange, about $140 more than the national average, according to a recent federal report. But that’s before tax credits are taken into account, which many eligible families will get as an upfront discount. That could lower the price for many Mississippians to less than $100 a month. Consumers will be able to see what discounts they qualify for when they sign up on the marketplace. Those tax credits will go straight to the insurers when a person signs up.

Louisiana: Costs for a 27 year old in Louisiana who makes $25,000 a year will pay $71 a month on average for the lowest cost bronze plan or $145 a month for one of the silver plans, after federal subsidies are applied, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A family of four with an annual income of $50,000 will pay $15 per month on average for the lowest cost bronze plan or $282 a month for one of the silver plans, after the subsidy, according to HHS.

More than 353,000 Louisiana residents are estimated to be eligible for federal financial subsidies in the form of tax credits to help pay for insurance coverage through the marketplace. Sliding-scale tax credits are available to households earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line, or $11,490 to $45,960 for an individual or $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four.

Where can I get help?

A 24/7 toll-free call center is available at 1-800-318-2596. The marketplace will also have an online chat center where questions can be answered.

What if I don’t enroll?

The law requires almost everyone to have health insurance. Fines start as low as $95 the first year but go up after that. People who already have insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits, don’t have to do anything.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.