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Where to Get Free Help in the Ozarks in Navigating the New Health Insurance Marketplace

Several organizations and agencies are certified to enroll Americans between October 1 and December 15 for insurance plans that take effect January 1, 2014
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(Photo credit: Jennifer Davidson, KSMU)

On Tuesday, under the new Affordable Care Act, often referred to as“Obamacare,” Americans can choose a new health insurance plan through an online marketplace, or “exchange.” The marketplace is expected to be cheaper than previous options, and cannot discriminate based on factors like pre-existing conditions. The two major health care systems in Springfield—CoxHealth and Mercy—are standing by, ready to answer questions about the marketplace…and to help get Missourians signed up.  KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson has more.

From a hospital’s perspective, the more people who have health insurance and preventative care—both of which are provided through this marketplace insurance—the less people will use the expensive Emergency Department as their first line of defense. So, both Mercy and CoxHealth are using grant money from the Missouri Foundation for Health to help enroll Missourians in the new health insurance marketplace, or “exchange.”

Each has hired new “CACs,” or Certified Application Counselors, who can walk someone through the entire process.  At Mercy, one of the people in charge of getting the word about the marketplace is Georgia Cable. She says there are 17 new CACs at Mercy.

“They have had a lot of education training materials that we’ve put together, as far as just learning about insurance and health care—a lot of terminology training.  One of our goals throughout all this is to make sure that we’re communicating very clearly, and that our message is easy for people to understand,” Cable said.

The counselors will be available at the toll-free number 1-855-900-4140.  

Cable said Mercy is still waiting on its final license approval from the Missouri Department of Insurance. Until then, she said, Mercy’s CACs will be on hand to answer questions, but will need to refer people to the website www.healthcare.gov to actually enroll.  Cable said she expects that licensure to be approved any minute, at which time the counselors will be able to walk individuals through every step of the process.

Over at CoxHealth, five new CACs are ready to hit the ground running, according to Rebecca Weddle with the CoxHealth Network. CoxHealth has also sent out thousands of mailings with information about the marketplace.

Weddle is helping organize a Family Fun Day on October 19 to let people learn more.

“At this family fun day, we’re going to have bounce-houses, and food, and games for kids. And it will give an opportunity for parents to hear more about the exchange, as well as enroll if they’re ready to enroll at that time,” Weddle said.

That event will be from 11:00 to 3:00 at the greenspace on the CoxHealth campus. That’s at the intersection of National and Walnut Lawn.  

CoxHealth’s numbers for enrolling in the new health insurance marketplace—or just to ask questions—are: 269-2945 or toll-free 1-888-345-2801.

Anyone can go insurance shopping on the marketplace website: www.healthcare.gov.

Both health care providers stressed that there will likely be some glitches when the exchanges first open—servers might be overloaded, for example, from all the people trying to get a quote or sign up.  And so, they’re urging patience…and they’re trying to get the word out that even though the marketplace exchange opens this week, Americans have until December 15 to sign up for health insurance plans that will take effect January 1 of this coming year.

You can also get help navigating the new health insurance marketplace at The Library Center on S. Campbell Avenue on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm.

Jordan Valley Community Health Center, at 440 E. Tampa St., is offering walk-in assistance from Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

If you’re outside of the Springfield area, you can find out where to get help navigating the new health insurance marketplace by going to www.localhelp.healthcare.gov, or by calling 1-800-318-2596.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.

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And Mercy is co-hosting an informational event Tuesday, Oct 1, from 1:00 to 3:00 at the Hammons Heart Institute. That’s at 1325 E Cherokee Street in Springfield. Along with the University of Missouri Extension Office, Mercy staff will answer questions related to the Affordable Care Act, including the health care marketplaces.

Also, Tuesday night, Oct 1, Mercy will be at The Library Center from 5:00 to 8:00 to take questions about the new, federal health care law.