Folks in Ontario and Wayne counties can look to Thompson Health for help in navigating the new health insurance exchanges.
Due to a state grant, a number of Thompson employees are trained as “navigators” to help residents of Ontario and Wayne apply for health insurance coverage, understand their coverage options and enroll in a plan. Navigators meet face-to-face with people in multiple locations.
Thompson stated in a release that the navigators can help people in enrolling in Medicaid, Child Health Plus and other qualified health plans. The navigators can also help small businesses in enrolling through the marketplace.
The online marketplaces, where consumers are shopping for private insurance, referred to as exchanges, opened Oct. 1 to considerable publicity — much of it centered on problems nationwide as millions of people went online to enroll. Reports of website failures led to the site healthcare.gov being temporarily shut down for technical fixes. Officials attributed the troubles to the site being overloaded and to glitches expected in launching a new system.
Chris Abraham, a South Bristol resident, said when he went online to check out insurance plans shortly after the exchanges opened, he thought something must be wrong because it went smoothly for him. After hearing about troubles using the site, he didn’t expect the experience to be stress-free, he said.
Abraham, 41, a self-employed artist and sole proprietor of Abraham Screen Print Studio in South Bristol, said he found a more affordable plan than his current one, with comparable coverage. His current plan is $333 a month with a $2,600 annual deductible; the plan he found on the exchange is $215 a month with a $1,500 deductible. Abraham said he decided not to complete his enrollment online before reading over a written copy of the new plan, which will be sent to him. He said he also decided to meet with one of Thompson’s navigators to make sure he is making the right choice and properly completing his enrollment.
Thompson stated in a release it also continues to provide financial counselors in Thompson’s Patient Financial Services Department who can explain financial aid, which includes referring customers who may be uninsured or under-insured to Thompson-provided assistance in obtaining coverage. Thompson’s Consumer Price Line will continue to refer customers to the navigators for exchange information if requested, as well.
“The hospital is currently making plans to ensure we can meet the growth in public/community inquiries since we can reach more of our community members who may not meet the criteria for a state program but may be able to take advantage of the best plan that fits their needs through the exchange,” stated Thompson Health Director of Patient Financial Services Penny Dodge.
To receive help in obtaining insurance from Thompson, call 1-888-758-7658 or (585) 396-6463.
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About the navigators
Thompson navigator, Christine MacDuff, responded to questions about the program. The Thompson team also includes navigator Jeannine Thomas and navigator program coordinator Deborah Ruggles.
Q. What are the most frequently asked questions you are asked as a navigator?
1. Tax Credits — what are they and am I eligible?
2. Can they keep the same providers they are currently using?
3. Asking for assistance in choosing a plan
4. Small businesses are calling for information on the SHOP Marketplace and how they apply
5. Consumers are calling, asking if they are eligible and what they are eligible for
Q. How busy have you been since you began your services as a navigator?
Telephone traffic has been extremely heavy. Many people are going on to the portal at home and are calling us when they need assistance or are unsure of how to answer a question. We are receiving a lot of calls from consumers who are looking for general information. We are currently scheduling appointments a few days out.
Q. Are there any limitations to what you can do in helping people navigate the new system?
We are here to educate and assist the consumers in using the Marketplace. We cannot and do not recommend any specific plan to them. We can assist them with completing the application and help them compare the plans they are eligible for, finding the best fit for them. We are unable to assist certain consumers who are eligible for Medicaid due to non-financial criteria; they will be referred to a local Department of Social Services (example: 65 or older, blind or disabled, long-term care coverage, along with a few others).
Q. What is something you want people to know about using navigators that they may not know?
Thompson Health Navigators have been certified by New York state. We do not charge for our services. We are available to assist the consumers in completing their application, along with helping them to compare available plans to so they are able to pick the best fit for them.