Obamacare uncertainty extends to help from 'navigators'

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, October 29, 2017

People trying to understand their options for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act might find it harder to get advice, and the shortened enrollment period starts Wednesday.

Understanding health care plans can be “a beast,” said Caroline Gomez-Tom of the Covering Wisconsin Navigator Collaborative, an association of trained "navigators" and "assistors" that provides the free service in Rock and Walworth counties.

But help is still available, even though President Donald Trump’s administration cut funding to the cooperative from about $990,000 to $560,000, Gomez-Tom said.

The cooperative had to shrink its coverage area from 23 counties to 12, and for those counties still covered, staffing is leaner, Gomez-Tom said.

The cooperative now covers mostly southern counties, including Rock and Walworth, she said.

Gomez-Tom is not sure if people will have difficulty making appointments with the free health care navigators, as they have in the past.

“The reason we aren’t sure is that in the national media, there’s been just so much confusion about what’s going on with the Affordable Care Act, and a lot of people in national surveys don’t know that this open-enrollment period is even happening, and a lot don’t know that it is shortened," Gomez-Tom said.

"What we are worried about is, with all the effort we’ve made to get the word out, that it’s a little too late, and we won’t know until we start encountering consumers in the first week of open enrollment.”

The enrollment period this year has been shortened from the previous three months to 45 days. It starts Wednesday.

Gomez-Tom said people should know the program is still there for them.

“The (insurance) plans are there, and they all have signed contracts through 2018,” Gomez-Tom said. “I’m telling people they have options. The financial assistance is still available to help them lower monthly premium payments.

“If people are unsure of what they qualify for, us enrollment assistors, that’s what we’re here for,” Gomez-Tom said. “Anyone can come see us. That’s really the message we want to get out.”

Healthnet of Rock County in Janesville continues to pay the premiums for county residents whose income is 150 percent of the federal poverty limit, or less, said Healthnet CEO Ian Hedges.

Healthnet’s funding comes from an anonymous donor.

Those applying for the grants must first choose a health plan, so Healthnet will refer applicants who need advice to a navigator, Hedges said.

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