Navigators ready to help with health care optionsLocal navigators are now licensed and ready to co-pilot residents through the Affordable Care Act health exchanges.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Local navigators are now licensed and ready to co-pilot residents through the Affordable Care Act health exchanges.
“We are up and running,” said Brad Gingras, chief operating officer for Northwest Wisconsin Concentrated Employment Program. CEP received a $285,000 grant to supply trained “navigators” to provide information about the most comprehensive change to the nation’s health care delivery system since Medicare. While CEP works in 10 northwest Wisconsin counties, it subcontracted with Workforce Resources of Menomonie and Workforce Connections of La Crosse to provide trained navigators to work in another 17 western Wisconsin counties. The navigators received their licenses Thursday.
Gingras and fellow navigators have been receiving phone calls since the exchange opened Oct. 1. Prior to licensing, they could only provide basic information. Now, Gingras said, they will be able to provide “any and all” information on signing up for insurance through the ACA.
“You will get a human being,” Gingras said. The navigators can provide information about insurance terminology and plans, explain benefits and subsidies, and more. The only thing they can’t do, Gingras said, is recommend one plan over another. That’s the customer’s choice. He said people calling in should review their pay stubs and know what their finances are; it’s information required to register for health insurance.
Most of the calls navigators have fielded so far have focused on options, Gingras said. Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, the sign-up process offers many selections. Callers want to be sure they’re picking the right ones.
The Associated Press has reported widespread problems with the health care law’s rollout. The experience on healthcare.gov has been frustrating for some, according to a blog posted Sunday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some have had trouble creating accounts, logging onto the site, or waiting for slow page loads, according to the blog. But the writer said there have been more than 19 million unique visits to healthcare.gov to date and the government is working to improve the online experience.
When asked about the delay in licensing for Wisconsin navigators, Gingras said the state wanted to prove the navigators were fully prepared.
Other than one part-time person, existing staff stepped up to take the role of navigator.
“We’re squeezing it into our duties,” Gingras said. For him, it’s been an unexpectedly rewarding move to learn about a new subject.
Information on how many people in Wisconsin have signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or how many of the state’s navigators were licensed was not readily available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to issue regular updates on implementation of the program, including enrollment statistics, according to Richard Olague with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He expected the first enrollment data to be released in mid-November.
Open enrollment for the program lasts six months, Olague said. The healthcare.gov website remains the official online source for information about the ACA.
For help, residents can call 888-780-4237 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Freelance writer Kevin Murphy contributed to this report.