North Dakota Navigator Project aims to educate about the Marketplace

In conjunction with the Affordable Health Care Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services came out with a proposal request for each state to develop an organization aimed at educating its residents on the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.Healthcare.gov.

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By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

In conjunction with the Affordable Health Care Act, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services came out with a proposal request for each state to develop an organization aimed at educating its residents on the Health Insurance Marketplace at www.Healthcare.gov.

The proposal for the awarded contract was written by the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities who immediately partnered with Family Voices of North Dakota and the Federation of Families For Children’s Mental Health.

Part of their submitted plan was to break up the state into eight regions based on counties, with each region having three to 10 counties included.

After the contract was awarded, the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities contracted various entities to service the regions. The southwest region, Region 8, was contracted to DLN Consulting Inc., who then reached out to the Strom Center at Dickinson State University (DSU) where they selected a person to be the Navigator for the region.

Region 8 Navigator, Renee Townsend, is a Business Advisor for the Small Business Development Center within the Strom Center at DSU.

“DLN Consulting, which is also in Dickinson, was contracted to serve Region 8 to get the word out, outreach for the Health Care Marketplace,” Townsend said.

Townsend is a certified Navigator and has gone through more than 24 hours of training on the Health Care Marketplace.

“As a Navigator I’m able to give information on the Health Care Marketplace and the SHOP Marketplace,” Townsend said. “If they need information about individual Marketplace I can provide that for them, if they need information about SHOP I can provide that also.”

SHOP stands for Small Business Health Care Option and Program, which is where small business owners can go to supply their employees with health insurance through the Marketplace.

Though Navigators can assist with the enrolling process, offer information and answer questions, they cannot give recommendations as to which plan prospective people should choose.

As part of the proposal, the Navigators are required to make two stops in each county of their region, which in Region 8 includes Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope and Stark counties.

Townsend gave a general overview of the procedures and information related to the Marketplace, but said she prefers the question and answer presentation format. She said it is easier to find out what the group is specifically wanting to know and understand about the Marketplace.

“It starts the conversation and it leads to more,” Townsend said.

Townsend said one of the biggest hurdles she sees with people is the Marketplace’s affiliation with the Affordable Health Care Act.

“I think there’s a misconception of what the Marketplace is because it’s attached to the Affordable Health Care Act,” Townsend said. “Individuals sometimes don’t want to participate in it because they give me the impression that they feel like the mandate is forcing them to do something that they don’t want to do.”

She reiterated that even though you can sign up and browse through healthcare.gov, you don’t have to go with one of their plans, you still have the choice to look to private suppliers.

“Really the Marketplace is (there) to give people options,” Townsend said.

This year the North Dakota Navigator Project has 18 navigators throughout the state, an increase of five from last year.

The project has two objectives—first is overall outreach about the Affordable Health Care Act and how people can enroll in the Marketplace. The second objective is to assist people with the actual enrollment process, something Project Manager Neil Scharpe said is much easier this year.

With all the issue that www.Healthcare.gov had last year, spending 10 hours assisting one person wasn’t out of the ordinary. Now the same process, according to Scharpe, is between 30-45 minutes.

The open enrollment period this year runs from Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015, and with the new mandate going into effect this year, people who aren’t covered should investigate their options.

“It doesn’t matter whether you like it or don’t like it, it’s the law,” Scharpe said. “And if it’s (health care) there and affordable for you, why not take advantage of something that Congress passed.”

Though the North Dakota Navigator Project is considerably busier during open enrollment, they still operate throughout the 12-month period, because there are special circumstances in which you can register outside the open enrollment period.

In general, open enrollment does close Feb. 15, but special circumstances include loss of coverage as a result of a job loss, a marriage, or if someone ages out of their parents’ coverage when they turn 26.

Sharpe encouraged anyone that had a question about acquiring coverage outside of the open enrollment dates to contact their local navigator.

“The message I really want to get across to all North Dakotans who do not have health insurance is that they just need to find out,” Scharpe said. “They can still make that decision that they don’t want to have health insurance.”

The Navigators will continue to make stops and answer any questions, but people are still encouraged to contact their Navigator.

Townsend, the Region 8 Navigator, can be reached at 701-483-2801 or 1-800-233-1737.

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