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Published: Saturday, 12/21/2013 - Updated: 8 months ago

NAVIGATORS READY FOR LAST-MINUTE PUSH

Monday deadline looms for health insurance sign-up

2 agencies team to assist consumers at Main library

BY MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toni Battle, a health-care navigator with the Neighborhood Health Association, speaks with Port Clinton residents Scott Jones, left, Judy Allen, Bob Allen, and Terri Jones at Our Brothers Place in downtown Toledo during a recent forum. A public sign-up will be held from noon to 7 p.m. Monday at the downtown library. Toni Battle, a health-care navigator with the Neighborhood Health Association, speaks with Port Clinton residents Scott Jones, left, Judy Allen, Bob Allen, and Terri Jones at Our Brothers Place in downtown Toledo during a recent forum. A public sign-up will be held from noon to 7 p.m. Monday at the downtown library.
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Monday is the deadline for the uninsured to enroll in a plan through the federal HealthCare.gov Web site for coverage to begin Jan. 1, when health insurance becomes mandatory for most Americans, although uninsured people can avoid a tax penalty if they enroll in an insurance plan by March 31.

Get Covered Northwest Ohio will hold a public sign-up event from noon to 7 p.m. Monday at the downtown Toledo-Lucas County Library.

Two local nonprofit agencies charged with running the health-care “navigator” program, CareNet and the Neighborhood Health Association, have joined together under the banner of Get Covered Northwest Ohio.

“Everybody is waiting until the deadline, and we are prepared for it. Every one of our navigators will be there, and we will be ready to handle a large volume of people,” said Brad Clark, project director of the Neighborhood Health Association's navigator program.

The agency’s 16 trained health-care navigators will talk to people on a first-come, first-served basis in the Huntington Room of the library and help them enroll in an insurance plan in the federal marketplace.

Officials in Washington are also expecting a surge in enrollments leading up to Monday’s deadline.

They have added 800 call-center staff for people who want enrollment advice by phone, bringing the total to 12,000 staffers at 17 call centers nationwide.

President Obama announced Friday that insurance sign-ups have increased dramatically now that the government’s Web site is working better.

He said more than 1 million people have enrolled since Oct. 1.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 5,672 people in Ohio and 6,847 in Michigan had signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov through the end of November.

“A lot of people don’t realize that just because you enroll and pick a plan, it doesn’t mean it’s complete,” Mr. Clark said. The next step is you must make your first monthly payment to the insurance company, he said.

The federal government took steps recently to give consumers a little extra time to get that first payment to their insurance company.

The Obama Administration changed the deadline and is now requiring insurance companies to accept that first payment through Dec. 31 for health coverage that will begin Jan. 1.

“Some insurance companies have moved the deadline to Jan. 10,” Mr. Clark said.

Consumers can contact their insurer directly to find out when the first payment is due for coverage.

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.

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.

Tax credits can reduce premiums for those earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

For example, an individual with an income between $11,490 and $15,282 would pay between $19 to $25 a month for a silver plan.

Also, a family of four with a household income of 23,550 to $31,322 would pay between $39 and $52 a month for that same silver plan.

Those with incomes below $11,490 for an individual and $23,550 for a family of four may be eligible to enroll in Medicaid and pay no monthly premium under the state's expanded program that was also put in place by the Affordable Care Act.

Nationally some 3.9 million people have qualified for government health care through the Medicaid expansion.

In northwest Ohio, “we are getting a high percentage of consumers coming in who are Medicaid eligible,” Mr. Clark said.

He estimates that about half of those who have signed up locally have been Medicaid eligible through the expansion.

Beyond the Dec. 23 deadline, then the important date becomes the 15th of of each month, said Mr. Clark.

Uninsured Americans will have until the 15th of each month to sign up for health coverage to begin on the first of the following month.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most adult Americans under age 65 will be required to have health insurance by April 1 or face a fee of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income, which would be assessed when they file 2014 taxes.

The fee increases every year. In 2015 it’s 2 percent of income or $325 per person. In 2016 and later years it’s 2.5 percent of income or $695 per person.

After that it is adjusted for inflation.

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



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