MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 1, 2013

Insurance marketplace now open

By Elizabeth Ridenour
Phoenix City Editor

— Today marks the opening of open enrollment through the Health Insurance Marketplace, a part of the Affordable Care Act.

The Marketplace will give Americans who are uninsured or who buy their coverage a way to shop for coverage. All health plans offered through the Marketplace must cover a comprehensive set of benefits, including physician visits, preventive care, hospital stays, and prescriptions. Discrimination against someone with pre-existing conditions will be banned. Coverage can start as soon as Jan. 1. Those who are uninsured after March 31 may face a penalty.

Area agencies and organizations have undergone training to be able to help area residents sift through the maze of information.

Bree Long, executive director of Muskogee County Community Action Foundation Inc., said her organization will staff two part-time “navigators.” Training was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We want our community members to be aware and educated about the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment,” Long said. “We will set up appointments to assist consumers with understanding the Marketplace. We ask anyone needing assistance to please call and set up an appointment,” Long said.

Lori Tibbs, the outreach and enrollment specialist with the Porter Health Center and the Muskogee Health Center, said people can go to the website healthcare.gov and apply.

“If they’re not comfortable with that, the best way is with a certified assistance counselor,” Tibbs said. “We are a facilitator. We only help the person with the online process. The system makes the determination of what the person in eligible for.”

The process also may be done over the phone, or the caller may request a paper application.

Consumers can learn whether they qualify for programs such as Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SoonerCare). And, even if people have insurance through their employer, it doesn’t hurt to look into the choices available through the marketplace.

“We’re telling everybody that everyone should check into it,” Tibbs said. “It’s going to help a lot of taxpayers — working people. It may be more affordable than what you have now.”

And people want to know how much their insurance will cost and what kind of tax credits may be available. When they begin the process, people will be asked to enter some basic information.

“It will tell them some options,” Tibbs said. “It will tell them if they qualify for reduced premiums. They’ll show you less expensive choices. They can show you different deductibles.”

MCCAF will be scheduling events to assist people who have questions such as estimated income or number of people in household.

“It will spit right back to them an estimate how much it will cost,” Tibbs said. “We do recommend everybody talk to someone in person, because it does get complicated.

“MCCAF Inc. is in the process of working with our community partners to schedule events in the near future,” Long said.

Reach Elizabeth Ridenour at (918) 684-2929 or eridenour@muskogeephoenix.com.

What to do

Information: Toll-free number: (800) 318-2596.

Check out the Health Insurance Marketplace online: healthcare.gov.

For help

To get assistance understanding the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace:

• Muskogee County Community Action Foundation Inc., (918) 683-2431, or www.mccafinc.com.

• Muskogee Health Center,

• Porter Health Center, (918) 483-0111.

• Northeast Oklahoma Community Action Agency Inc., Cherokee County, (918) 253-4683.

• Community Action Resource & Development Inc., Wagoner County, (918) 341-5000.

• Deep Fork Community Action Foundation Inc., McIntosh County, (918) 756-2826.

• Northeastern Oklahoma Community Health Centers Inc., ,Muskogee, Hulbert, Tahlequah, (918) 772-3390, or www.neohealth.org.

• Health & Wellness Center Inc., Checotah, (918) 473-0048, or www.thwcinc.com.