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Nonprofits try options to online health insurance
Navigators enroll candidates on federal exchange
 
Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:12 am
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte nonprofits are lending a personal touch to enrolling in the federal health insurance program.

North Carolina is one of 34 states – nearly all Republican-dominated – to pass on setting up their own insurance exchanges, leaving citizens to the federal website that has been racked by technical glitches. Community groups, using federal grants, are jumping into the fray by recruiting navigators to sign new enrollees. 

“Signing up on healthcare.gov has been a frustrating process,” said Madison Hardee, navigation supervisor at Legal services of the Southern Piedmont. “However, there are many ways to apply for coverage, including by phone, by mail or through the North Carolina e-pass system.”

Laura McClettie, an outreach specialist at C.W. Williams Community Health Center, is recruiting and training navigators to enroll interested consumers. The need is real, she insists –  384 people are scheduled for enrollment appointments at C.W. Williams.

“I thought I was retired,” said McClettie, whose background includes community outreach with the Census Bureau. “I’m trying to get enough people to volunteer to become navigators and counselors so they can help people and get the word out about the Affordable Care Act.”

Since the enrollment period opened on Oct. 1, online sales have lagged, federal officials admit. Coverage starts on Jan. 1, 2014 and the enrollment period ends March 31.

“I can tell you our early enrollment numbers will be very low,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a Senate committee last week.

Hardee said her organization “has seen a very high level of interest” in applications, although federal officials have yet to confirm the number of actual policies made on the exchange.

“We’ve connected with hundreds of consumers,” she said. 

McClettie said public outrage over the website’s failed rollout hasn’t diminished interest in the program, likening it to the buzz generated by a new tech gadget. 

“This is like the new iPhone,” she said. “People are standing in line to get them, and then they sell out so fast. That’s what’s happening with Obamacare right now. People are waiting to get in line and they want to get it.”

McClettie said in addition to comparing insurance plans, applicants are also mindful of federal law, which requires everyone to sign up for a policy.

“A lot of people want to stay in the bounds of the law,” she said. “They don’t want to break the law, because you’re talking about … being fined or something like that. People are looking at it as it’s the law and I’ve got to do it, so I’d better do it.”

With options available aside from the federal web site, McClettie said a face-to-face approach to enrollment develops trust for consumers who could be leery of an insurance retailer. The winner, ultimately, will be consumers who previously couldn’t afford standard health insurance.

“The Pandora’s box has been opened and now it’s just jumping out,” she said. “The way people should’ve been serviced before, they’ll be able to be serviced now and it’s affordable.”

There are several options to apply for the health insurance marketplace in North Carolina:

• By telephone at 1 (800) 318-2596

• Federal web site www.healthcare.gov

• North Carolina web site https://epass.nc.gov

• In person with a navigator at 1 (855) 733-3711.

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