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Published: Monday, 12/2/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Navigators to start health trek

Educational events, hotline among resources for northwest Ohioans

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
 Where to find navigators:

■ Cordelia Martin Health Center, 430 Nebraska Ave.

■ Navarre Park Health Center, 1020 Varland Ave.

■ The Center for Health Services, 2150 W. Central Ave.

■ The Source, 1301 Monroe St. (downtown)

■ Toledo/​Lucas County Libraries: Main, 325 Michigan St. (downtown); Heatherdowns Branch, 3265 Glanzman Road; Sanger Branch, 3030 W. Central Ave.; Reynolds Corner Branch, 4833 Dorr St.

■ St. Luke’s Hospital, 5901 Monclova Rd., Maumee.

■ Fremont Community Health Services, 410 Birchard Ave, Fremont.

■ Erie County Community Health Center, 420 Superior St., Sandusky.

■ Wood County Health District, 1840 E. Gypsy Lane Rd. Bowling Green.

For schedule information and to make appointments in Lucas, Erie, Sandusky, and Wood counties: 419-214-0043 (Monday-Friday, 9-5 p.m.). For schedule information and to make appointments in other northwest Ohio counties: 1-800-648-1176.

Health-care “navigators” will officially begin helping northwest Ohio residents enroll in the federal health-insurance marketplace this week.

Two local nonprofit agencies charged with running the navigator program locally, CareNet and the Neighborhood Health Association, have joined together under the banner of Get Covered Northwest Ohio and will hold a kick-off event Wednesday at the United Way of Greater Toledo headquarters downtown.

The event will include a news conference for media at 10:30 a.m. and a free general information session for the public at 11:15 a.m. Navigators will also be on-site and available for one-on-one assistance from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. Appointments may be made by calling the United Way’s 2-1-1 telephone line.

There are about 44,000 uninsured people in Lucas County, said Doni Miller, the Neighborhood Health Association’s executive director.

“We are available now to make sure the community has what they need in terms of education and resources to determine if they want to sign-up through the exchange,” she said.

In addition to the kick-off event Wednesday, Get Covered Northwest Ohio will host several educational events at churches and community centers in Toledo that are free and open to the public over the next two weeks.

Brad Clark, the Neighborhood Health Association’s navigator project director, said 16 navigators will be available daily except Sunday throughout the Toledo area to help people enroll in a health-care plan, using the federal Web site established by the Affordable Care Act. The part-time employees will move around between more than 12 locations in Toledo, Maumee, Fremont, and Bowling Green. Mr. Clark is still working to add more locations to the schedule.

According to Mr. Clark, there will always be a navigator available during the evening and on Saturdays in at least one location. He suggests people call the 419-214-0043 hot line, answered during the week, with specific questions about navigator availability.

CareNet has an even more daunting task. The agency only received federal funding to hire six part-time navigators to cover a large geographic area. CareNet is responsible for providing navigator services for more than 20 counties in northwest Ohio.

“From the Michigan border to the Indiana border, past Lima and over to Huron County,” said Jan Ruma, the agency’s executive director.

As a result, CareNet’s navigators will work on an appointment-only basis. People in those counties may call 1-800-648-1176 for information or to set up a face-to-face meeting with a navigator, she said.

“We need people to be brave and go on the Web site and try to enroll themselves, because we don’t have enough navigators to assist everyone. It’s just those who have challenges with computers and have never been exposed to how the health-care system works that will need the assistance,” said Ms. Ruma.

Ms. Ruma and Ms. Miller agreed that the healthcare.gov federal enrollment Web site is improving each day.

But a troubled start to the health-care marketplace’s open-enrollment period, which began Oct. 1, has made the public leery of it.

“I’m so disappointed that people have been frustrated. This is so crucial. We actually have the opportunity to change the health status of people who have never had insurance before,” said Ms. Miller.

“It has become so politicized but the ACA is the law right now, and we are losing the import of the initiative. There are already great things happening with this law.”

Ms. Ruma said she is not confident the federal Web site will be problem-free this week, despite President Obama’s assurance that the site would be working for most people by now. While expressing satisfaction that the President pushed the enrollment deadline back from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 for people to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage, she said more extensions could be needed if the Web site’s glitches persist.

“We’ve been really focused on the process, because it’s all new, but really what it comes down to is picking a plan that you can afford that meets your needs,” said Ms. Ruma.

The marketplace offers four coverage levels: platinum, gold, silver, and bronze.

The platinum or gold plans generally have higher premiums but smaller co-pays and deductibles, whereas a silver or bronze plan will have lower premiums with higher co-pays and deductibles.

Each plan must include the same minimum benefits, such as hospitalization coverage and mental-health care, but premium payments and out-of-pocket costs differ at each level and for each person depending on age, geography, tobacco use, and the number of people the policy covers.

Tax credits can reduce premiums for those earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $11,490 to $45,960 for an individual and $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four.

Seven insurance companies are offering a total of 66 individual and family plans on the marketplace in the rating area that includes Lucas, Williams, Fulton, Defiance, Henry, and Wood counties.

A separate zone covering Ottawa, Sandusky, Erie, Seneca, Huron, and Wyandot counties has 32 plans offered by four insurers.

Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: mtaylor@theblade or 419-724-6091.



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