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Agents, state ready to help with ACA confusion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Melissa Menon, accounting manager for Home Base Inc., said the company wanted to provide its employees with access to a health insurance agent to help employees navigate West Virginia's health-care marketplace.

"I think there is a lot of confusion out there," Menon said of the open enrollment that kicked off Oct. 1 under the Affordable Care Act.

Open enrollment continues through March, and Menon wants employees of Home Base, a social service agency, to have their questions answered on what health-care plan fits them best. The company sought help from a Charleston-area health insurance agent who, like many agents, have been preparing for the ACA since it was signed into law.

"There are so many different facets of each policy," Menon said. "We do want to take care of our employees, and that is a valuable tool for them."

Ryan Fitzer, an agent with Garlow Insurance Agency, started preparing to help his clients with the ACA three years ago.

"It's a complicated law, and I wanted to make sure I am helping the businesses and individuals I work with as best as I can," Fitzer said.

Menon asked Fitzer to take calls, emails, hold meetings online and attend meetings in-person around Home Base's offices in the state for employees to talk with Fitzer about health-care coverage.

Home Base employs about 95 people, many of whom are part-time workers, and for the first time will have access to health-care coverage.

"There are some wonderful things in it that can really help people, if it works," Fitzer said of the law. "Let's hope it does everything it is supposed to, because we need help."

Fitzer, along with other local insurance agents, like Joseph Deacon III of Deacon and Deacon, completed course work with the National Association of Health Underwriters' new professional-development course on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

That's in addition to federally facilitated marketplace training required for brokers and agents to assist consumers in selecting health plans and enrolling through the marketplace.

The 10-hour courses with NAHU are approved in all 50 states and cover topics such as implementing health-care reform, self-insured plans and health insurance exchanges for individuals and small employers.

Deacon worked with NAHU to make sure he knew the ins and outs of the law before the market opened.

"There are a lot of ramifications coming down the road," Deacon said, "and you have to be prepared to advise your clients."

The week the marketplace opened, Deacon had about 50 new clients reaching out for assistance.

"There have been a lot of people to try and respond to," Deacon said. "I think that, next week or the week after, we should be able to start helping people a little bit more."

Both agents agreed that it's nice to know a consumer will be dealing with the same agent consistently and added that prices are the same regardless of if consumers enroll with an insurance agent or individually.

Consumers also may find in-person "assisters" at state Department of Health and Human Resource offices.

"The in-person assisters have been in training [last] week," said Jeremiah Samples, assistant to DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling. "Our local offices have brochures to assist customers as they call or walk in to our local offices to apply."

Samples added that federal navigators are available at various locations and federally qualified health centers received federal funding to assist consumers.

To obtain help from a certified assister through the state, consumers may visit https://localhelp.healthcare.gov, or call 1-800-318-2596.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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