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Agencies to hire 100 more health-care helpers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More health insurance enrollment help is on the way for West Virginia residents.

The West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner has finalized contracts with four agencies to hire around 100 more in-person "assisters," or IPAs, Insurance Commission officials said Tuesday.

The West Virginia Primary Care Association will receive $1,017,146, Community Care of West Virginia will get $586,612, Partners in Health Network Inc. will get $601,692 and Valley Health Systems will get $707,252 to hire in-person assisters, Jason Butcher, a spokesman for the OIC said.

The funding is from the federal government, distributed by the state OIC.

"With those additional organizations, that's going to add another approximately 100 assisters to the state," Ellen Potter, of the OIC, said during a Tuesday meeting of Health Insurance Marketplace stakeholders. "So right now that puts as at around 200 assisters in the state."

The IPAs will be working in hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities all over the state, Jeff Wiseman, of the OIC, said.

The in-person assisters will work through March 31, the close of the initial open enrollment period in the health coverage. Open enrollment started Oct. 1.

Including the state's in-person assisters, certified application counselors, navigators and trained insurance agents, there are about 300 people across the state to help enroll people in health insurance, Potter said.

The OIC had originally planned to hire 270 in-person assisters, according to the agency's application with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The 270 IPAs were to be in addition to insurance agents, certified application counselors, navigators and other helpers, said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

An OIC spokesman has since said that because of all the other helpers, the state did not need the full 270 paid in-person assisters.

"I think the real fund disagreement is whether you can count on [certified application counselors to help people enroll]," Bryant said. A lot of the counselors are going to be in hospitals, which have a vested interest in enrollment people in insurance, he said.

"[There will] be other CACs that don't have the resources to really be engaged, and counting them instead of the IPAs, I think, is a mistake."

OIC officials also announced Tuesday that after a December meeting, stakeholders will no longer meet monthly to discuss enrollment progress. The Health Insurance Marketplace stakeholders, which consists of officials from the OIC, and other agencies involved in the Obamacare rollout had met monthly for more than a year, Bryant said.

"[It's] perplexing," Bryant said of the decision not to meet after December. "I'm just not sure there's an real commitment to getting people enrolled by the OIC.

"I don't think their heart is in it."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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