Augustans get help with insurance sign-up

Charles Maddox walked into the classroom at the Augusta public library headquarters and pointed warily at the laptop computer on the table.


“I don’t know nothing about that,” he said.

Maddox, 62, represents a real problem in the quest to sign up people for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace: those who lack access to computers or lack computer skills, or both. But with some help he also represents one of the best outcomes: He will finally get regular health insurance and likely all of it will be covered by tax subsidies.

Maddox was one of a small group who showed up for in-person help through a session hosted by navigator Terri Gant of Medical Associates Plus@Belle Terrace. Unlike previous sessions, when computer glitches virtually shut down progress, federal officials have been touting recent fixes that should make it much smoother. In fact, 29,000 people enrolled on Sunday and Monday alone, a health official said Wednesday.

It was a different story during the session in Augusta, however. Many of those wishing to sign up need basic instructions in how to use a computer and basic functions like e-mail, Gant said.

“We get that quite a bit,” she said. “And the barrier is, with your more mature audience, you typically get those who are not computer savvy simply because they haven’t had to use a computer in their generation. A lot of them really are not interested. They’re intimidated by that.”

Many, like Jimmy Smith, needed to create an e-mail account so they could enroll. Even after about a half-hour, he was still trying to create an account. He got hung up on the security questions that are part of the enrollment process that could be used to verify his identity later. The Web site would not accept the answers he provided for a significant date in his life (his wedding day) and for a phone number, even though both were correct. So he picked different security questions and that seemed to work.

“You’ve got to think outside the box,” he said. But he ran into computer problems after creating the account and didn’t finish. Smith, a dishwasher at a Red Lobster restaurant, gets vision and dental coverage through his job but needs to get other coverage for his family. So he vowed to continue trying the next day.

“It’s all right,” he said, even as he was waiting for the computer to start cooperating again.

Maddox, who also lacked e-mail, switched to trying to create an account through the call center early on. A construction worker, he has been without regular insurance for about 20 years. He has diabetes so finding insurance coverage had been difficult. At one point he was facing premiums of $1,000 a month, which was not affordable.

That could all change soon. After about an hour, he was able to create an account, find out that he qualified for substantial tax subsidies and cost savings and was able to hear about his options at the Silver level, which would cover 80 percent of costs.

“Essentially, he won’t have to pay anything but one cent for his health care,” Gant said. “He was very excited about that. He got quite a bit of premium tax credit.”

But in the midst of the process, Maddox had to show some patience as he waited for the call center person to help him.

“You may have this thing running,” he told her, “but I’ll tell you, this thing is awful difficult.”

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services contributed to this report.


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