CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A month into the Affordable Care Act's open-enrollment period, a majority of the in-person "assisters" to help people get health insurance in West Virginia are not yet hired.
The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner originally planned to hire 270 people to help West Virginia residents enroll in the state's health insurance marketplace and its expanded Medicaid program, according to grant applications state officials made to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Gazette obtained the records through an open records request.
The state now plans to hire 170 in-person assisters, or IPAs, insurance commissioner spokesman Jason Butcher said.
IPAs are trained, full-time workers paid $20 an hour to help state residents enroll in health insurance, according to Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Care.
Only about 80 of them have been hired and are working, Bryant said.
Open enrollment in the state's expanded Medicaid program and the Health Insurance Marketplace began Oct. 1 and will continue through March 31.
"We're going to lose one-sixth of the enrollment period with them not being in place," Bryant said.
He said the IPA program was meant to be a key part of the state's outreach to uninsured people -- especially because Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin turned down millions of federal dollars to have a state-run media campaign about the Affordable Care Act.
"I think it's a big deal," Bryant said. "They were [to be] the backbone of the outreach efforts."
Butcher said four companies have been chosen to provide more IPAs. Contracts with those companies are "in the purchasing stages," he said.
He acknowledged that original estimates were that West Virginia would need 270 assisters to help people enroll in health insurance. But the federal government added more resources and helpers under different names, so the state did not need to hire as many IPAs as originally thought, he said.
In addition to in-person assisters, there are navigators, certified application counselors and insurance agents who are helping enroll people in health insurance, Butcher said.
He believes there are more than 200 workers around the state who can help people enroll in health insurance.
But Bryant said the original plan was to hire 270 IPAs in addition to the other helpers.
"That is what they consistently told everyone," Bryant said.