Dana McGill-Brown of Grandview is the vice president of operations for MHG Affordable Health Care Enrollment Service Center, 1520 E. 18th St., 816-326-0035, MHGObamacare.com. This conversation took place at the enrollment center, in the former site of the Peach Tree restaurant. The center helps people enroll in the Obamacare marketplace by appointment or on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, through Feb. 15. There is no charge for the service and anyone can get help regardless of where they live.
Do you offer advice only or can you actually enroll people in a health care plan and get them signed up for a subsidy, if they qualify, while they are here?
We can enroll them in a plan right here, face to face, figure out if they qualify for a subsidy and apply that subsidy to a plan.
You’ve been open since November 15, when the enrollment period began. How’s it going so far?
Really well. In addition to our in-person service center we also have a call center to answer questions for people over the phone. We’ve had a lot of people come through but we are staffed to handle it. We have between 6 and 10 navigators and between 6 and 10 licensed insurance agents.
What is the difference between a navigator and an agent?
An agent is licensed with the state, and our navigators are in the process of getting licensed so they know the plans and the laws, too.
What happens to your office after February 15?
We will staff down but remain open to help people answer questions about their coverage and how to use their plan.
How did you get into the insurance business?
I was born and raised in Kansas City, at 4608 Wabash, and graduated from Paseo High School. After high school, I was working at an advertising agency on the Plaza and I just felt like I wanted to do something different and work more closely with people. I’m a people person.
I went to work for Kaiser as a marketing assistant, then became interested in sales and got my health and life insurance license in 1997.
You’ve been in the health insurance business for more than 15 years. What are the biggest changes you have seen on the ground since Obamacare went into effect?
The biggest changes and the ones that help the most families are the limits on out-of-pocket maximum that patients have to pay, allowing children to stay on policies until they turn 26, and not allowing insurance companies to exclude pre-existing conditions or to charge more for pre-existing conditions. That was just wrong, that companies could deny coverage for the very thing people needed coverage for.
I’ve heard people complain that their insurance costs more now under Obamacare. Have you seen that?
The costs for some plans are higher, but people have a lot more plans they can choose from. Some plans people had that were cheaper did not provide good coverage. Now there are essential benefits that have to be covered, including maternity, ambulance and mental health. Before, those things were often carved out of a policy. Some plans didn’t even have prescription coverage. So you might have been paying less, but you weren’t getting much for your money. Now you might have to pay a little more but you are truly covered.
Anyone with a phone or a computer can sign up for Obamacare at home. Why should people come here to enroll instead?
We all know insurance is confusing. It’s difficult to evaluate all the choices and know which plan is best for your situation if you aren’t in the industry. I get tripped up occasionally and I deal with this stuff every day, all day long.
A lot of times people choose the plan with the lowest monthly premium. That might be best for some people, but for others, it might be cheaper over the course of a year to pay a higher monthly premium with lower out-of-pocket expenses. Our agents and navigators can ask the right questions to figure out which plan will be the most economical based on your situation.
What are some misconceptions people have about Obamacare?
Some people still think they can’t afford it. But if they come in, we might be able to get them a plan for only $20 a month — I’m just throwing that number out there, but there are subsidies available for low-income people that do make it affordable.
Another big misconception is that the plans are not good-quality plans and that there are not enough providers. That is not true.
Insurance plans have always used networks. There have always been HMO networks and PPO network and POS networks. There are a large number of providers for all the plans. If you bring in a list of your doctors and hospitals you prefer we can look up which plans they participate in.
If people call for an appointment or walk in to get signed up for health care, what do they need to bring with them?
Tax returns from 2014, Social Security numbers and date of birth of everyone they want to enroll. Also, if you are employed we need information about health insurance offered by the employer.
Do you get commissions from the insurance providers for signing people up?
Yes, we do. The carriers pay it, not the customers.
Do you have an incentive to push people toward certain carriers because they pay a higher commission?
No, no. No. The commissions are similar among all the plans, and the commissions are lower on the marketplace than if I was to enroll someone directly.
We are in this community to try to get insurance to the people that need it the most, and we are going to stay here and help people get the most out of their plans after the enrollment period is over.