Despite a shortened enrollment period and uncertainty about the insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, enrollment counselors are reminding northwest Ohioans that help is out there.
Figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week show customers selected more than 601,000 plans from Nov.1-4, the first week 2018 enrollment on healthcare.gov was open. Of those more than 137,000 — or about 23 percent — were new customers. A CMS spokesman said Monday via email that Ohio or Lucas County-specific enrollment numbers were not available.
But local enrollment counselors say demand remains steady from those looking to sign up for Medicaid or marketplace insurance plans while uncertainty remains, making their jobs as crucial as ever.
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"It's been very busy," said Lavelle Livingston, a community health worker and marketplace navigator with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. "It's up from last year."
She gets an estimated 30 to 40 calls a week from people with questions about enrollment or looking to make an appointment. Many have questions about the status of the income-based premium tax credits, she said.
Customers with income between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty threshold, or $24,600 to $98,400 for a family of four, can qualify for tax credits to offset premiums.
Enrollment ends Dec. 15, six weeks earlier than in previous years. With advertising budgets slashed and the loss of many navigator services in Ohio, Julie Grasson, assistant director of Toledo-Lucas County CareNet worries people will forget or wait too long to enroll.
“In years past our biggest rush came after the holidays,” she said. “Everybody gets into the holidays, Thanksgiving and the December holidays, and health care isn't on their mind, especially because in the last four years they have been able to take care of it in January.”
Ms. Livingston is booked through the week but still has plenty of appointments through the end of the enrollment period. The main message, she said, is not to wait until the last few days to start browsing plans.
"Normally people will wait until the last minute. They can't wait until the last minute now," she said.
Clients who come knowing expected 2018 income, household size, and preferred doctors will help make the appointment more efficient.
"Do your research, talk to your doctors, see what plans your doctor takes," she said. "It's always best to do your homework."
Lawrence Wagoner, 58, didn’t wait to get help enrolling in a plan through Paramount. Mr. Wagoner, of Whitehouse, doesn't get insurance through his restaurant job, and was uninsured before signing up last year with some assistance.
Now he can access necessary medical items, including a new pair of glasses.
"It helps," he said of having insurance after enrolling on Monday with the help of Ms. Livingston. "I don't have that great of a job but the insurance covered [the glasses]."
To make an appointment with CareNet, call 419-842-0800. A full list of appointment times is available at toledocarenet.org/news-resources/health-insurance-marketplace. Appointments are recommended.
The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department also has walk-in hours and appointments with certified application counselors Monday through Friday at its downtown location, 635 N. Erie St. Call 419-213-4307 for an appointment.
At the department’s Western Lucas County Clinic, walk-ins and appointments are available 1-4:45 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m.- noon on Thursdays at the clinic, 330 Oak Terrace Blvd., Holland. Call 419-213-4536 for an appointment.
Neighborhood Health Association also offers assistance; call 419-214-5700 for an appointment.
For those outside Lucas County, additional options can be found on healthcare.gov under the “Find Local Help” button on the site’s homepage. CareNet accepts non-Lucas County residents for enrollment assistance appointments.