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SHERIDAN — Two specialists trained in eligibility and enrollment in the national health care exchange held two educational sessions at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library Wednesday.
The events were hosted by the Sheridan Health Center in conjunction with Enroll Wyoming, a statewide effort to help Wyoming’s uninsured understand and access health insurance.
“We wanted to do community outreach because I think there are a lot of questions,” Sheridan Health Center Director Cathi Kindt said. “We wanted to bring expertise in to answer your questions and talk about how people can get health insurance.”
Navigators George O’Haire and Caleb Perea presented an overview of the process for individual citizens to shop for insurance plans.
The visitors from Cheyenne are two of 12 statewide navigators representing a task force supervised by the Wyoming Institute of Population Health charged with educating Wyomingites about health care reform.
O’Haire admitted that until recently, his job was difficult because of functionality issues with the government website.
Now that the site is functioning at a more proficient level, he said he is able to focus more on helping people consider health insurance options.
First, O’Haire established a baseline vocabulary associated with the coming changes to the American health care system.
For example, he explained that “marketplace,” “exchange,” and “healthcare.gov” are all the same thing.
He also discussed commonly used insurance terms, like premium and deductible.
With that out of the way, the team introduced the regulations regarding who will be subject to the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act. In other words, the people who will have to buy their own insurance.
While much of the discussion about the mandate was met with skepticism from audience members who experienced sticker shock at the policy prices listed, tensions eased up when many realized they would be eligible for federal subsidies. In fact, people who make between 138 percent and 400 percent of the FPL will not pay the full monthly premiums.
In addition, O’Haire said people who qualify for an existing group medical coverage, like Medicare or Veterans Affairs benefits, along with tribal members and those with religious objections are exempt from the individual mandate.
In all, there are approximately 83,000 people in Wyoming who are uninsured, which equates to roughly one in seven people. O’Haire said the ultimate goal of the ACA is to make a friendlier environment for insurance and enable people to focus on preventive care.
“Here’s what we’re seeing — we’re traveling across the state helping people out,” O’Haire said. “There’s glitches. We’re able to get through those glitches.
Not everything is working out the way we want it, but we are seeing a lot of positive. People who haven’t been able to get insurance before are getting insurance that will trigger on January 1.”
O’Haire also added he has seen a sizable turnout of young people enrolling in the exchange, despite his own skepticism.
The next component of the hour and a half seminar focused on how to enroll in a selected health care plan. In addition to a basic navigational overview of healthcare.gov, the duo explained phone and paper enrollment and the unique situations that may come with each enrollment choice.
While Enroll Wyoming navigators can help people understand the Affordable Care Act and how it applies to unique situations, their job is only to provide information.
“We’re just here for the education piece,” Perea said. “ We always joke that we look like insurance agents, but we’re not. We’re not here to sway anybody toward one policy or another.”
Majory Rea, of Sheridan, attended the class in preparation to purchase an individual policy via the national exchange.
“I feel more confident about going to the website,” she said. “The acronyms were explained and I realize we’re all going through this together.
“It’s going to be completed for a couple of years, but I feel like it’s really going to benefit our nation,” Rea said. “We’re going to have more healthy people.”
The open enrollment period on the national health care exchange started Oct. 1 and will run through March 31.
People in Sheridan who missed Wednesday’s classes can reach a navigator by calling 211 from a land line. Some cell phone users will need to call 1-888-425-7138 to reach the Wyoming 211 resource.