Slow and steady wins the race?
That is what patient navigators in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties hope for people who use their services to select a health insurance plan through the state health insurance marketplace. Of the approximate 106,000 people nationwide who have enrolled successfully in health insurance through various exchanges in the first month of open enrollment, Oct. 1 to Nov. 1, at least 154 received help from north country patient navigators.
Its been getting a lot easier, said Anne Marie Snell, director of navigation for the St. Lawrence Health Initiative. We are a completely different website than the federal one, but the marketplace does rely on federal data. We cant process if the federal hub is down.
Open enrollment will continue through mid-March, but then is expected eventually to align with Medicare open enrollment, which occurs each October through early December.
A good sign, Mrs. Snell said, is navigators people who help guide community members through the online health insurance exchange are booked with appointments for the next few weeks. Mrs. Snell encouraged people who want insurance coverage Jan. 1 to make an appointment before Dec. 15. People who enroll in a plan by Dec. 15 will have coverage starting Jan. 1, but if they enroll after that and before Jan. 15, coverage will begin Feb. 1, and so on.
We also dont want people to make a rash decision, she said.
While the St. Lawrence Health Initiative has helped about two dozen people enroll in an insurance plan, there have been more than 120 duplicated appointments with patient navigators. Some people may start the process with a navigator, she said, go home and review options, and then continue the process by themselves online.
In the first four months of the open enrollment period, ACR Health has helped enroll about 130 local residents in a health insurance plan, according to Steve Wood, community health coordinator of Community Health Advocates, a program offered through ACR Health.
Weve seen nothing but success with the New York State of Health marketplace, Mr. Wood said at an ACR Health event last week.
In addition to those enrolled the first four weeks, ACR Healths patient navigators helped 80 others start the enrollment process.
Mr. Wood said he expects numbers to continue to increase, especially as patient navigators pick up more appointments.
According to a recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services news release, within the first month of open enrollment, 975,407 people have started the process but have yet to select a plan, and 396,261 people have been determined eligible for Medicaid or the Childrens Health Insurance Program. A briefing from that federal department also said New York State of Health Marketplace officials reported about 174,000 New York residents had completed applications and were determined eligible for coverage.
The state exchange also has handled more than 77,000 calls within the first four weeks of enrollment.
The federal briefing also shows that within that same period, 16,404 New Yorkers have selected a marketplace plan.
There are 15 marketplaces, including the one in New York, that have been implemented in states and the District of Columbia, separate from the federal system. The remaining 36 states have marketplaces that are supported or fully run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
ACR Health Executive Director Michael E. Crinnin said with all of the negative news about the federal website woes, its a pleasure to give you data to counter all of these negative images.
Donna Hynes, North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council insurance program coordinator, said she does not have enrollment figures from agency patient navigators available for the first four weeks the marketplace was open. The councils patient navigators remain busy, and are booked about three weeks in advance.
At this point, its working well, she said of the state marketplace. Were seeing a lot of people who havent had insurance in years; some are self-employed, or someone whose spouse has Medicare, but theyre uninsured. Weve seen a little bit of everything. Every week it gets better.
One 63-year-old client, who declined to be identified, said she is in between retirement with no insurance, and eligible for Medicare at 65. This process helps fill the insurance gap before shes able to enroll in Medicare in two years, she said.
She also was able to find a plan through MVP, and as of Jan. 1 will pay a $97 per month premium, and will have an annual deductible of $2,000.
Weve had a lot of success stories, with people leaving close to tears, or in tears, Mrs. Hynes said.
For more information, visit www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.