ANDERSON — Terri Rinker expected glitches when the federal Health Insurance Marketplace went live, but she never anticipated the problems would make it so difficult to help people.
“The website has gone down,” Rinker said.
Rinker, a certified application counselor, was providing assistance with health care enrollment at Community Hospital Anderson on Tuesday. She said she hopes the problems were only due to a large volume of users and will be corrected quickly.
She said they helped more than a dozen people seeking assistance with the Marketplace program and several people were unsure exactly what the Marketplace was for and if it was something they were required to do.
Kathy Abner, of Muncie, traveled to Anderson to find someone to help her enroll in the program. She said she was excited about the federal program for health insurance because she was recently laid off and she has a medical condition that requires medications.
“I’ve been trying to get on one of these plans since 9 a.m.,” Abner said. “I was one of the first people here and we have not been able to get into the Marketplace.”
Rinker assisted Abner with her application, but the website would kick Abner off during the registration process. Rinker called the toll-free number listed on the site and after a 30-minute wait, Abner was told the only way she could enroll was online.
“It’s frustrating,” Abner said. “I can’t do any comparison plans.”
After two hours, Abner decided to give up her quest, but Rinker made arrangements to have someone who was certified to help Abner enroll in the program in Muncie so she would not have to drive back to Anderson.
Rinker said Abner could enroll herself online, but some are not comfortable with that process and application counselors can explain the terminology.
“I don’t understand it,” Abner said.
Emily Thornburgh, 25, of Sulphur Springs, said she wanted to talk with someone to see if she was eligible for the program. During her screening with a certified assistant, Thornburgh discovered she qualified for another program being offered at the state level.
“I’ve never had insurance,” she said. “My insurance will be less than $20 a month.”
A nationwide survey by nonprofit Enroll America found that 78 percent of people who are eligible for free or low-cost health insurance don’t know they qualify for the programs, but once they learn about their options, 75 percent said they want in-person assistance.
Rinker said information from that survey is one of the reasons why Community Hospital decided to offer Marketplace enrollment assistance. Of the three insurance providers offering plans to residents of Madison County, only Anthem covers services provided by Community. This information is provided in a full disclosure to those receiving assistance.
By January 2014, everyone in the United States must have insurance. Rinker said the fine for those who do not have insurance is $95 or 1 percent of a person’s income – whichever is greater.
“The bad thing, though, is if you don’t sign up you have to pay a fine and still don’t have insurance,” she said.
Rinker explained that those at the 250 percent of the poverty level qualify for cost-sharing reductions to reduce their insurance costs, but they must sign up for a silver plan in order to receive the reduction. Sometimes people qualify for Medicaid and that is a free program, she said.
“People should come to find out what their options are and make an informed decision,” Rinker said.
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Enrollment Sessions Community Hospital Anderson's Education Center, 1923 N. Madison Ave., will hold free information sessions and enrollment on the following days and times: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Those unable to attend the sessions can call 298-1775 and leave a message for a certified application counselor to return the call.