By Linda Dillman
Seeking affordable health care, but baffled by the Affordable Care Act selection process? Wary of the Website? Have no computer and looking for assistance? Madison County’s ACA navigator can help.
Ohio’s ACA Exchange is providing free support via local “navigators,” who lead individuals and small employer groups through the selection process for citizens signing up for health insurance.
Qualified health plans offered to the public are required to provide certain essential health benefits through various levels of coverage, but the amount of information available to the consumer can be daunting. Each level, from bronze through platinum, features variations of co-pays, premiums and deductibles, in addition to lists of network doctors and hospitals.
A state grant funds navigator programs like one offered in London by the Ohio Free Clinics, which is designed to guide clients through what can be a lengthy and bewildering process. Conducted locally by Melvin Verhoff, the program is housed in the Madison County Health Partners Free Clinic, 210 N. Main St., north of the main hospital, and open free of charge to all Madison County residents.
“My role as a navigator is to assist people with signing up for help with health insurance,” said Verhoff. “I start from scratch to see what people know about health insurance and the Affordable Care Act and then see what their needs are and what options they have in this area. They’re usually done after a few meetings. I don’t want them to rush through the process. I want them to take their time and make the right decision based on their needs and financial limitations.”
In addition to working with residents on a one-to-one basis, Verhoff raises awareness of the availability of qualified health plans through public education. He also provides referrals for health insurance consumer assistance, a health insurance ombudsman or state agencies for complaints or questions.
According to the ACA, navigators receive training on the state exchange, Medicaid, other public programs and the private insurance market. They explain eligibility, benefits, premium tax credits, cost-sharing, and the appeal process to consumers and are not associated with the insurance industry.
Verhoff, who meets with clients on an appointment-only basis and is available throughout the week, was certified by the state and started offering his services to the public after the holidays.
“My hours fluctuate because I try to meet people whenever they’re available,” said Verhoff. “I’m trying to get the word out that I am available and I’m trying to meet with different service groups around the area to let them know I’m here.”
For information regarding the Affordable Care Act, contact Verhoff at (740) 845-7552. Unless an individual experiences a life-changing event, the cut-off to sign up for insurance through the ACA is the end of March.