Health exchange navigators seeing steady stream of clients

The Community Health Center of Central Missouri’s (CHCCM) health exchange navigators have had a steady stream of clients seeking enrollment assistance on the state’s health insurance exchange that opened for enrollment Oct. 1.

“I think it’s been about what we expected,” said Sarah Russell, billing manager of CHCCM. “There’s not an overwhelming interest yet, but it’s been pretty steady, and it keeps getting more and more.”

CHCCM was one of 22 health centers in the state to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help enroll the uninsured in new health coverage options through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

CHCCM used the more than $76,000 grant to hire two new outreach enrollment staff to help the community understand their coverage options in the marketplace.

Russell said since Oct. 1, people have contacted CHCCM saying they’ve been trying to create logins on healthcare.gov, the site where people enroll in the exchanges, but they’ve had some issues.

“We’ve experienced the same things ourselves,” Russell said. “So, we’ve been doing a lot of paper applications, and those have been going well.”

Russell said CHCCM is doing a lot of outreach to get the word out that the health center is there to help.

“We’re also advertised on healthcare.gov as a place that can assist,” she said. “We’re basically just letting people know that we can help them do the application or that we’re also doing education sessions to explain to them what their options are and if they want to enroll.”

Part of CHCCM’s outreach is assisting people who receive services from the Samaritan Center, a community-supported, low-income assistance agency.

“We’re going to start going in there every Thursday and have one of our enrollment staff there every week to provide education and enrollment however we can,” Russell said.

Marylyn DeFeo, volunteer executive director at the Samaritan Center, said the agency’s clients asked for enrollment assistance.

“I think we’re less intimidating,” she said. “They’re always afraid they’re going to say the wrong thing and lose whatever assistance they’re getting.

“It’s a neutral place.”

The Missouri Alliance of Area Agencies on Aging was also awarded an HHS grant to provide navigator assistance for enrolling Missourians in the health exchange.

“We made a decision early on that we were not going to take appointments to help consumers until Oct. 15,” said Jean Leonatti, chief executive officer of the Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging. “We just knew from our experience with Medicare Part D, that the government’s website would have trouble early on. With everyone hitting it at once and expected glitches, it would only be frustrating to attempt to get on the first week.”

She said the agency has had some calls and has set up navigator appointments for 10-15 people for after Oct. 15.

“People have been very understanding, and don’t seem concerned about waiting a little while to start the process,” Leonatti said. “But, we have not at this point helped anyone actually enroll.”

She said the agency in the meantime is working to train its staff. It hopes to have nearly 20 people with the federal certification and Missouri navigator license by the end of the month.

“We are developing all of our forms and packets of materials to give to consumers,” Leonatti said. “We are working with partners to set up presentations throughout the 19-county area that we are responsible for.

“There’s lots of coordination going on.”

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