Help offered to navigate health insurance exchange

Deadline for state health care exchange is Dec. 15

PORT ANGELES — Open enrollment for health insurance plans through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange will end Dec. 15 and North Olympic Peninsula medical groups and volunteers are reaching out to help people navigate the available plans.

Information will be offered in both counties this coming weekend. In Clallam County, an informational session is planned from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Olympic Medical Center patient billing and financial services at 519 Peabody St.

In Jefferson County, information will be available at the Chimacum Arts and Crafts Fair on Saturday and Sunday and at Chimacum High School, 91 W. Valley Road, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Johanna Weber, director of revenue cycle at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, said that everyone at the patient billing and financial services is a certified application counselor.

“We have two at the hospital site as well, ” she said, referring to the hospital at 939 Caroline St. When patients are admitted, we go to their rooms to see if they are eligible for Apple Care, Washington state’s medicaid program.”

Weber said Clallam County has only one qualified plan.

“It is through Lifewise, a subsidiary of Premera Blue Cross,” she said. “This year we haven’t seen as high a demand as previous years for qualified health plans,”

“More people are paying for health care themselves because they know they won’t be penalized for not having insurance. When people see what their premiums and deductibles are, it might be a deterrent.”

Jefferson County

Sea Mar, a community health center based in Seattle, is the lead organization assisting Jefferson County with Washington Health Benefit Exchange enrollments and is coordinating efforts among some organizations.

“Open enrollment time is limited this year,” said Esteban Jimenez, managed care regional coordinator of Sea Mar. “It’s 30 days less than last year. People might think they have more time to sign up, but one of the struggles we have is doing outreach in this shorter time frame.”

He explained that the deadline does not affect Medicaid enrollment, which is open all year.

“Jefferson Healthcare reached out and wanted to have some of their people become navigators,” Jimenez said.

A navigator is a the county’s term for a certified application counselor — a person certified under the health benefit exchange and trained to do health insurance enrollments.

“They navigate the system to help people apply through the health plan finder, to identify good options for them at affordable or low cost coverage,” Jimenez said.

There is no charge to the applicants for this service.

“Our goal is to create informed health care consumers and our financial counselors can help community members understand the options available to them,” said Jillian Crabtree, manager of patient access services at Jefferson Healthcare hospital.

“Our financial counselors are becoming certified navigators for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. We’re finding people and enrolling them in plans.”

Crabtree said anyone wanting information about the plans can call 360-385-2200 ext. 2267 to make an appointment and meet with a counselor between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Walk-ins are welcome as well when there is availability. The last day for the service is Dec. 14.

Local volunteers will be out spreading the word that the deadline is fast approaching.

Linda Martin, a local volunteer with Raging Warriors for Universal Healthcare/ Port Townsend Indivisible said her group has been at local events trying to reach out with information and will be in Chimacum this coming weekend.

“The younger people think that they don’t need health insurance and have chosen to go without it,” she said. “They think they are infallible. We know that isn’t true.”

Sea Mar’s Jimenez said when people don’t qualify for Medicaid, it is because their income is above the threshold or they have not been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for more than five years.

“If people are at 400 percent of the poverty level, which is calculated at $24,339 in Washington, they qualify for tax credits, lower monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

“One person with an annual income of $48, 560 or less would qualify for tax credits which would help them pay for their premiums. For people over the income threshold,” he said, “they would pay the full premium and are not eligible for tax credits. That’s when people say health insurance is too expensive.”

People can apply online and start an application at www.wahealthplanfinder.org.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reaches at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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