A shortened enrollment period and fewer certified navigators are just a couple of the hurdles facing a work group developed to assist people with health insurance sign-up under the Affordable Care Act.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, leads the Tri-County ACA Work Group and remains undeterred in making sure people in the tri-county region of Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties are able to explore health care options under the federal ACA.
Cobb-Hunter said during the group's Oct. 26 meeting that while the ACA may be "on life support" amid the contentious political debate over health care, it is not dead.
"It's still here. There are all kinds of stumbling blocks that have been put in front of this program. But if y'all know like I know, you take your stumbling blocks and make them stepping stones. Our priority is getting the word out," Cobb-Hunter said.
Certified navigators and certified application counselors -- including local private insurance agents -- are available throughout the region to assist residents with information they need regarding the law or navigating the system.
The Regional Medical Center and the Orangeburg-based Family Health Centers Inc. are among the locations in the region where South Carolinians will be able to sign up for health care under the federal ACA.
Under the ACA, individuals who don’t have job-based insurance coverage, can’t afford their own plans or had a health problem that previously got them turned down are able to purchase insurance through an online marketplace on the federal government’s site, HealthCare.gov.
Individuals who are currently on insurance provided through the ACA will have to re-enroll. Assistance is available by calling the HealthCare.gov's Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. TTY users can call 1-855-889-4325. Individudals can also visit https:/Localhelp.HealthCare.gov.
Open enrollment to sign up for insurance under the ACA will run from Wednesday, Nov. 1, until Friday, Dec. 15, about half the time provided under former Presdient Barack Obama's administration.
"This year the end comes very quickly. Our enrollment period is very short, so our efforts have to be very aggressive," said Jackie Fulton, patient access manager at RMC.
The Tri-County ACA Work Group has worked with other entities, including Palmetto Project and the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, to make sure individuals in the tri-county region are served.
Fulton said, however, that the Beaufort Bounty Black Chamber of Commerce has seen its budget decrease from $500,000 to approximately $10,000. Palmetto Project has had its grant funding, which had totaled more than $1 million, plummet to a little more than $500,000.
She said the state has also seen its number of certified health care navigators drop from 60 to 30.
Wanda Simmons is operations director of Resource Care Alliance, a company that sponsors Certified Application Counselors, or CACs, in partnership with RMC and is located onsite at RMC. The counselors assist in marketplace enrollment.
Simmons said while many individuals enrolling for insurance "are not sure what's gonna happen" this year, they will receive the assistance needed to help them make informed decisions.
Individuals are encouraged to contact a CAC by phone or in person for enrollment assistance. Individuals can can come by the Resource Care Alliance Office at the RMC, or patient registration entrance, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can also call 803-395-2023 or 803-395-2735 (toll-free at 1-855-241-5320) to find out what materials they need to bring to apply for coverage.
Karen Stearns, outreach and enrollment coordinator with FHC, said enrollment specialists are stationed at the main Orangeburg site and at the FHC’s six satellite sites. Individuals are encouraged to call the FHC at 803-531-6900 and ask to set up an appointment. Enrollment specialists are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Orangeburg site and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the St. Matthews, Denmark, Norfield, Holly Hill, St. George and Vance sites.
"We will do appointments after hours," Stearns said, noting enrollment periods will also be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the main Oranegburg site on the following Saturdays: Nov. 4, Nov. 18 and Dec. 2.
Veronica Lingard, prevention director at the Oranegburg-Calhoun-Allendale-Bamberg Community Action Agency Inc., said individuals can also sign up from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at OCAB. Individuals can call the office at 803-536-1027 for more information.
Sadie Jarvis, director of counseling at Claflin University, and Elizabeth Rivers, an academic adviser at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, are both working among their respective populations to get the word out about enrollment assistance.