Insurance Coverage Counselers Finding a Way Around Insurance Marketplace Glitches

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- The number of Iowans who successfully applied for individual health insurance coverage, picked a plan and paid in October was very small. In fact, the Health Insurance Marketplace figures released by the federal government Wednesday show only 136 Iowans in all completed the process from start to finish.

But a number of organizations in Linn County have joined forces to assist individuals in applying for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And the county's outreach specialist said 60 people qualified for coverage just this week in Linn County through the assistance program and he predicts bigger numbers statewide in November.

Twila Evens is a single mother in Cedar Rapids with four children. Her kids were always insured—under the HAWK-I program at first and now Title 19. But she always did without insurance of her own and depended on the various free clinics in Cedar Rapids. But despite the dire warnings about glitches and frustration she persevered. When the HealthCare.gov website became too difficult to navigate she tried a different tactic.

This week, there was word of success—she not only qualified for coverage, it will come with a full subsidy and no out-of-pocket cost.

"It wanted to make me cry because I've never had it (health insurance) before. To actually have insurance to go see a doctor instead of waiting until it was almost too late sometimes. It made me feel good I was able to get something to take care of myself," Evens said.

When Evens couldn't get the government website to work she took the advice of a co-worker and sought out one of the certified application counselors in Linn County. That counselor discovered Evens qualified to apply for insurance through an Iowa Department of Human Services website based on her income and family size.

Heather Rowe is one counselor working for the Community Health Free Clinic in Cedar Rapids. She said counselors typically start an application on the government website. Once it freezes up, she then switches to a phone application. She said that process takes about 20-25 minutes with the paperwork arriving in the mail in about two weeks. Applicants then have to return to look over the information, see if they qualify for a subsidy and pick a plan.

But lately, Rowe said the HealthCare.gov website has worked better. On Wednesday, she successfully signed up two people for individual coverage on the spot electronically without any waiting for paperwork.

"Got them through the account, got their application filled out and then got their information of what they were eligible for," Rowe said.

Sixteen different Linn County groups are cooperating in either steering people to the certified insurance counselors or providing a counselor on site.

Jeff Tourdot, the county's outreach specialist for the ACA applications, said the organizations decided to wait until November 1st to officially roll out the counseling assistance to avoid the government glitches.

Tourdot said as more counselors are trained and certified, they will be available during business hours at the Community Health Free Clinic, HACAP, Linn Community Care, Linn County Public Health and both the Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital emergency departments.

He said he expects members to be able to assist 1,800 people a month with signing up for insurance between now and the end of the initial sign up period March 31, 2014. His biggest job now is simply convincing the estimated nine to 12 percent of Linn County residents without health insurance to visit a counselor, get help and start the process.

"We want people to come in, we want to talk to them one or one so they get the help they need," Tourdot said.
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