Joco Opinion

Lori Allen — Nauseous over health insurance

Updated: 2013-08-27T21:21:00Z

By LORI ALLEN

Special to The Star

Still wondering what the Affordable Care Act means to you? Having trouble understanding the overall effect the implementation will have on the health care landscape?

Me, too. So I decided I would call George Clooney and get his take. He played a doctor on TV, and we were in a movie together, you know. So I put a call into to my agent to have them get George’s contact information.

Before I get into that, though, let me tell you what I do know. On Oct. 1, the marketplace website, HealthCare.gov, will be open for business.

It will be the primary tool, delivering information to Americans about their health care coverage options. While some states have elected to operate their own marketplace, Kansas and Missouri are part of the exchange run by the federal government. Coverage begins under the new law on Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment closes on March 31, 2014.

Having just watched an eye-opening presentation by Beverly Gossage on health care, I called her while I waited for my agent to get back to me. Ms. Gossage is the owner of HSA Benefits Consulting and the president and legislative chair of the Greater Kansas City Association of Health Underwriters.

This woman is sharp as a tack and cuts through the mumbo jumbo like an Iron Chef with a Miyabi knife. She has been navigating health care options for years, and after talking with her I would need 700 pages instead of 700 words to do any justice to answering health care questions.

Taxpayer dollars have been doled out to hire “navigators,” to the tune of $67 million, just to help people understand the policies. Kansas alone was the recipient of $900,000 of that money.

So what can navigators do to help? Ms. Gossage shared with me that they may assist applicants in “navigating” through the website and determining whether they qualify for subsidy, premium tax credits or are eligible for Medicaid and/or if their children meet state guidelines to receive assistance in the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Navigators may not assist applicants with comparing policy benefits or help them enroll in a plan. How do you reach a navigator?

Chances are they haven’t even been hired yet. Obamacare outreach “navigator” grants were just awarded on Aug. 15.

That’s not a lot of time to get things organized, hire navigators and their assistants and have them complete up to 30 hours of training. In addition to navigators, according to Gossage, there are currently 56,000 independent licensed agents and brokers in the state of Kansas that are prepared to provide the same functions as navigators and much more.

They can compare the policy benefits and networks. Most importantly they can compare the government’s exchange marketplace plans to the hundreds of plan design options that will still be available from multiple carriers on the open market.

Also, because personal information (tax return, Social Security information) is required to help, it’s important to note that a licensed agent must carry errors and omissions insurance and follow HIPAA standards for privacy of data. George Clooney knows a thing or two about the importance of privacy in healthcare…. Remember that motorcycle accident where hospital employees released his private information?

While waiting on that call back from my agency, I decide to check out where else I can get some answers. Believe it or not, there’s a toll free number, 800-318-2596, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to answer your health care questions.

You might think you’re all set if you have insurance through your employer, but as businesses react to the upcoming policy changes expect to see changes to your coverage as well.

There’s been a mountain of dialogue on the pros and cons of Obamacare and very little on implementation. This confusion makes a great place for scam-artists to operate.

Con arts have set up “insurance sign-up” websites that might look official but are vehicles to collect personal information. Scammers have also used phone or email to ask the insured to “confirm” personal information so that they can send participants a new required Obamacare card only to steal the information they provide.

Save this column and use these numbers and websites that avoid scams and traps. If you don’t think you know enough about the changes in health care at least you will know where to find answers.

Oh, and about George Clooney, I was just using him to get to you to read about health care. If he ever calls me back, that will be another column entirely.

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