Angela Gyurko sits at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Just Soup, offering information about how to sign up for health insurance Wednesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Angela Gyurko sits at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Just Soup, offering information about how to sign up for health insurance Wednesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Volunteers work to sign up Jefferson County residents for health insurance

PORT TOWNSEND — A group of volunteers is working in Jefferson County to spread the word that it’s not too late to sign up for health insurance through the state.

Among the dozen or so people involved with Local 20/20’s Jefferson County Healthcare Access Group is Angela Gyurko, who said she is doing what she can to raise awareness that Washington state’s open enrollment deadline is Jan. 15.

“A lot of folks have really appreciated the opportunity to talk with a human,” she said. “In my first couple weeks here, I had a couple different people who said they looked [at the website] and it was just so confusing.”

She said that those who find the website at wahealthplanfinder.org too complicated or who just want to talk to a real person can call Sandra Padilla at 253-280-9880.

Gyurko said it’s difficult to know how many people signed up for health insurance because of the group, but she knows when they started about 1,700 people in Jefferson County were eligible for insurance provided by the state or subsidized coverage through the state health exchange.

Officials have told her that number has been cut in half as people have continued to sign up for health insurance, she said.

“The more conversations people have with their neighbors and people they encounter about health care and how easy it is to sign up, the more people are going to be covered,” she said.

So far there have been almost 200 more health insurance plans selected through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange this year than at the end of open enrollment last January, according to statistics provided by Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer for the exchange.

As of Tuesday, a total of 1,927 plans had been selected, 1,150 of which are subsidized. Last year, only 1,765 were selected, of which 1,239 were subsidized.

Gyurko said she feels it is especially important for people in rural communities to have health insurance to be able to pay for services at local hospitals.

“Here in Jefferson County we have a public hospital and it’s not for profit,” she said, referring to Jefferson Healthcare. “If we have too many people going in for emergency care and too many people being referred to collections, we all lose out.”

Gyurko has staffed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s Just Soup in recent weeks in an effort to connect with people who need insurance. Others have staffed food banks in Port Townsend and Chimacum and have offered fliers during community events.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades Wednesday. It includes a zeroing out of the tax, or fine, levied against those who do not secure health insurance. The measure now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

With that in mind, Gyurko said she and others are still focused on signing people up for 2018 while hoping for changes during the 2018 mid-term elections.

“The struggle that I really have with this is the people who are going to be hurt the worst by the absence of the mandate … is small rural hospitals,” she said.

“I think of the small rural hospitals that are already closing because there is just no money to keep the jobs there and that is just going to make it worse.”

For more information visit wahealthplanfinder.org or call 1-855-923-4633.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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