Navigators hope reformed can help speed enrollment

Terri Gant’s voice rises with excitement as she recalls finally being able to create an account on the federal Web site.


“I was like, yesss!” said Gant, a navigator with Medical Associates Plus@Belle Terrace. “Then I got halfway through the application and I was still a little apprehensive. I thought, ‘This is not going to work’ .”

That reservation would be understandable given the balky and glitchy nature of the Web site that was supposed to be a portal to enroll people in 36 states in the Health Insurance Marketplaces. For nearly a month, it was virtually unworkable. But now, as some items appear to be working and federal officials are promising a smoother experience as more fixes are made, they are sending out e-mails inviting people who were stymied the first time to try again.

Despite their promises, there are still problems. An Augusta Chronicle reporter was able to create an account in minutes, but was unable last week to log in using that account despite several tries. Gant said avoiding peak hours is key to making it work.

“If you try get on between the hours of 11 and 3, those typically are not good hours,” she said. “I’ve noticed the system slows down about that time of day. But if you get on at 3:30, 4 o’clock and after, we’ve had good results. And early in the morning, if you can get on between 8 and 10, typically you get good results.”

Even outside the Web site issue there is the difficulty of helping people who might never have bought insurance before, said Janice Sherman, the CEO of MAP@Belle Terrace.

“The language, the concept, everything about it is foreign,” she said. “Those kinds of issues for people who have never had insurance are quite complex. The most common question I hear is, ‘What does it all mean?’ To me that means, I don’t know how to begin to look for the answers.”

The community health center is starting to address that by having general education sessions in its waiting room to help people understand the terms and how to look for insurance that will fit their needs, Sherman said.

It helps “extend a hand to folks so they are more comfortable asking those hard questions because it is intimidating,” she said.

But there is definitely a pent-up demand among people who want to get enrolled, said Gant, who said she has enrolled 15 so far, most within the past week or so.

“We’ve had more individuals who want to enroll and they just really want to know how to get this process completed so they can get it as quickly as possible,” she said. “Definitely I understand the frustration. We’ve been frustrated by the fact that the Web site hasn’t worked the way we thought or as effectively as we thought. They want us to fix that and fix it now.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213

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Another round of grants under the Affordable Care Act will allow an Augusta community health center to realize its dream of serving Jefferson County. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this month that $150 million in New Access Points grants would be going out to Community Health Centers across the country. That included $108,333 to the Neighborhood Improvement Project Inc. in Augusta, which runs Medical Associates Plus@Belle Terrace clinic.

“It was a very pleasant surprise,” said clinic CEO Janice Sherman. The clinic had applied to cover Jefferson County before but had been denied and it did not have the resources on its own to offer services there, she said.

The Augusta clinic will merge its new effort with Wrens Medical Associates to create Medical Associates Plus@Wrens, Sherman said. It will provide medical services and help with enrolling in the Health Insurance Marketplace, as the Augusta clinic does now. Sherman said she expects it to be open around the beginning of the new year.

– Tom Corwin, staff writer

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