Deadline nears for health care sign-up; local help available

A last-chance deadline to sign up for health insurance for the remainder of 2015 through the Affordable Care Act is coming up on Feb. 15. 

And unlike last year, the website is up and running and apparently glitch-free.

The online insurance marketplace, www.healthcare.gov, is for those who do not have health insurance provided through their employer. The marketplace is where people may compare insurance plans, see the costs and services of each plan, see if they qualify for a subsidy on their insurance premium, and ultimately, sign up for insurance coverage. 

To provide assistance to those who may need help signing up through the www.healthcare.gov website, Livingston HealthCare will have two staffers — called Licensed Navigators — available extra hours this weekend. 

DONNA HEMMINGSEN

 

LHC staffers Donna Hemmingsen and Jessie Sumner, who are also Patient Financial Counselors, received extensive training last year in advance of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” 

LHC’s navigators are available to help anyone, not just patients of LHC. And the service is free and completely confidential, Hemmingsen stressed. The navigators maintain statistics on the number of people they assist, but do not keep track of names. 

Hemmingsen said she and Sumner each assist about six or seven people per day, some in person, some on the phone. They take phone calls from all over the country because their phone numbers, along with all the Licensed Navigators across the U.S., are listed on the healthcare.gov website. 

JESSIE SUMNER

 

They both said they have had phone calls from individuals angry about being told by the federal government they must have health insurance, but both have also spoken with people very glad to have insurance. 

“I helped a lot of people who were extremely sick,” Sumner said. And now that they have insurance, “They don’t have all these medical bills,” she added. 

Hemmingsen said she has also spoken with people pleased with the coverage. 

“People who haven’t had insurance, I think they are really happy to have it,” Hemmingsen said. 

Hemmingsen counsels people to check with a tax professional to see what impact the insurance subsidy may have on their tax situation. Depending on one’s income and tax situation, a portion of the tax credit used to lower one’s monthly insurance premium may have to be paid back in 2014, she said. 

She added that once people who have not had insurance get caught up on preventive care, she thinks some of the overall cost of health care will go down, in the form of fewer emergency room visits, or catching a health issue before it becomes major and expensive. 

For those who chose not to enroll in an insurance plan last year, penalties will begin to take effect. But there are some exemptions for people who, even with subsidies, simply could not afford insurance premiums.

And there are a number of “hardship exemptions” for those facing situations such as homelessness, an eviction or a shut-off notice from a utility company; natural disasters, or crushing medical debt. 

Exemptions are also possible for those who fall through the “Medicaid gap.” Those are individuals who were determined to be ineligible for Medicaid because their state did not expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the website states. 

Gov. Steve Bullock supports Medicaid expansion, which his office says in a Jan. 19 news release, would extend health care coverage to up to 70,000 Montanans. 

House Bill 249, the bill which would create the “Healthy Montana Plan,” is currently under consideration in the Montana House of Representatives.

The LHC Navigators are available Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hemmingsen may be reached at 823-6632 by phone or in person at her office in LHC’s hospital. Sumner may be reached at 823-6489 or at her office in True Value Plaza.