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Questions abound as health care enrollment begins

Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 7:38 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 2:58 PM
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Cassandra Bryant’s husband is offered health insurance through his job as a cook at a Huddle House restaurant but they can’t afford to take it.

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Cassandra Bryant (left) and Lena Cunningham visit Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace off Golden Camp Road in Augusta. Neither woman has health insurance.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Cassandra Bryant (left) and Lena Cunningham visit Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace off Golden Camp Road in Augusta. Neither woman has health insurance.

“It’s so high with the money they make he wouldn’t bring anything home,” she said outside the Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace clinic in south Augusta. She’s heard she will have to have insurance next year but like her cousin Lena Cunningham they are unclear how to get it or again how to pay for it.

“If you don’t have an income then how can I pay the premium?” Cunningham said.

Open enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace in Georgia begins Tuesday as the biggest and most significant piece of the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services said that premiums in the exchanges are actually lower than expected in Georgia and nationally are about 16 percent below what was projected. And many families will qualify for tax credit subsidies.

But even those charged with implementing the enrollment and the new coverage acknowledge the launch is likely to be bumpy. Some expect that it will be similar to the beginning of the last massive federal health benefit program, which was the Med­icare Part D prescription drug coverage that began in January 2005. Many people did not have their cards, help lines were jammed and pharmacists were frustrated in the early going.

Medicare Part D had “really significant problems in the early weeks and months,” said Gary Cohen, the deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “The same thing is going to happen with this program.”

IN GEORGIA, many of those who are supposed to be helping with enrollment are scrambling to complete the training required to become a navigator. Only three had actually been licensed by the state as a navigator but nine more were just waiting to clear the background check before they could be licensed and “that could be completed this week,” said Glenn Allen, a spokesman for Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens. Twenty people have taken the test needed to be licensed under Georgia law – with 16 passing – and another 13 have registered to take the test, he said.

In Augusta, outside of 2.5 positions that will be helping to enroll people through the Community Health Centers of Christ Community Health Services and Medical Associates Plus, there is a great need for volunteers to come forward and help answer questions, said Janice Sherman, the CEO of Medical Associates. The center said there are an estimated 50,000 uninsured in Augusta and 19,000 in Columbia County alone.

“What we really want are some volunteers to help expand the capacity because we really don’t have the capacity based on what the potential demand is,” she said. Sherman hopes retired will come forward to help answer questions.

AND THERE ARE a lot of questions, said Terri Gant, the community outreach manager at Medical As­sociates and a navigator in training.

As she goes to events to help educate people about what is coming, Gant says she is typically greeted with, “I’ve heard about Obamacare. What is it?”

So she starts “from the beginning, letting them know the correct name is Affordable Care Act. We’re kind of starting from there and going through the whole gamut, letting them know what it is all about, who is eligible, what the enrollment process is going to look like for them. Also teaching them about this is what you need when you come to the table.”

People can enroll online through, they can contact a call center or they can get the forms and mail it in, Gant said. Going through the Web site allows them to see what subsidies they might be eligible for to help pay premiums. People can go in and record their information and then come back later to enroll if they want to do further research. As they research plans, there will be a link to see what a plan’s provider network looks like, Cohen said. They will be able to look at different copays and deductibles, Sherman said.

“We’ve played around with the information to see if it is really complex and it’s really not,” she said. “I think it’s just more time-consuming and it really has to do with each individual’s ability to grasp that, from a literacy standpoint.” For some people, it may be necessary to explain what some of these insurance concepts mean. Before it begins, it is hard to know where the pitfalls will be, Sherman said.

“The best way to really understand how much more education is needed is just to start enrolling people,” she said. “Because we really aren’t going to know until you get on the site.”

One thing working against them is the low level of penalty for not having health insurance, which Gant said was $95 or 1 percent of income the first year. The penalty increases sharply in subsequent years, she said.

CHRIST COMMUNITY was hiring people last week to help and are hoping they get up to speed soon, said Ron Skenes, the director of communications and development.

“From our perspective, it’s just a matter of getting the people on board, getting them up to speed on the whole process of identifying what’s available and who’s qualified and then what the process is for getting them signed up,” he said.

Probably about half of Medical Associates’ patients will be eligible for coverage, Sherman said. About 60-75 percent of Christ Community’s patients right now are uninsured, Skenes said.

“We want to do what we can to help them understand what their options are and see what’s available that they might be eligible for,” he said.

Though open enrollment starts Tuesday, federal health officials said they don’t expect a rush in the first weeks or months. Judging by enrollment in other programs, people will wait until just before the deadline to do it, which would likely be December if they want coverage in January or just before the open enrollment period ends on March 31, said Julie Bataille, the director of the Office of Communications for CMS.

That’s an important point for patients to remember – it doesn’t have to be done this week, Sherman said.

“There’s time,” she said. “And that’s a good thing.”


WHAT: In-person assistance to those seeking to enroll in the state Health Insurance Marketplace plans

WHERE: Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace, 2467 Golden Camp Road

WHEN: Oct. 12, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

MORE INFORMATION: (706) 755-9422

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Riverman1 09/29/13 - 05:10 am
'Peal it

I'm not about to try to figure out any of this BS. Hopefully, it will be repealed before it bothers me.

InChristLove 09/29/13 - 09:41 am
No one seems to answer this

No one seems to answer this question.

"She’s heard she will have to have insurance next year but like her cousin Lena Cunningham they are unclear how to get it or again how to pay for it.

“If you don’t have an income then how can I pay the premium?” Cunningham said."

TrukinRanger 09/29/13 - 11:08 am
The website is

The website is up but the plan choices won't show up until October 1st - but you can search for frequently asked questions on there. Looks like you'll be able to pick plans that suit you. I believe if an individual makes less than $46k (triple poverty rate)- can't remember what they said the married threshold was listed as. Looks like a typical open enrollment type page that you would get through your employer.

thauch12 09/29/13 - 11:08 am
From what I understand of it,

From what I understand of it, if your income falls below a certain level (I'd imagine $0 qualifies), the government will exempt you from having to pay the penalty for not having insurance...which basically brings us right back to where we were in the first place.

So essentially people like Ms. Bryant and Ms. Cunningham will continue to be a drain on the system, racking up indigent care bills that raise the cost of healthcare for everyone.

carcraft 09/29/13 - 09:47 pm
The Congressional Budget

The Congressional Budget office estimates 30 million uninsured after Obama cate implemented. 30 million uninsured before Obama care implemented. We have Solved NOTHING!!!

watamu 09/30/13 - 02:37 pm
We have to bite the bullet

We all have to bite the bullet and do this! Health costs are are going up yearly, eventually you will not be able to afford your present insurance premiums and risk joining the uninsured!
If you are reading this article, you have a computer. There is so much good information online if you look for it. If it has .gov in the address it is genuine accurate information. Try starting here

rmwhitley 09/30/13 - 05:03 pm
As anyone who

is inclined to read my posts, I'm an avowed racist but with a caveat. The majority of the black population is hard-working and in most cases just able to eke by on their paychecks. Their plight in obtaining hard earned health care insurance is swept under the rug by their useless naacp leaders who take unbelievable advantage of their less educated brethren. charlie "white cracker" rangel, jesse jackson, benjaminm jealous, obama, holder and crew of crooks could care less about them except at the voting booth. rangel's "white crackers", and I'm referring to the conservative Republicans, have tried to help these minorities ( knowing that they will never get the black vote) more than the left liberals who are aware that they can rape and pillage their constituents with impugnity. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

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