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W.Va. ACA navigator ready to help enrollees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two and a half months into the open enrollment period for insurance plans in the state's Health Insurance Marketplace, West Virginians still have questions about the health-reform law, navigator Jeremy Smith said.

"People have a lot of questions," Smith said. "Everyone has questions about their specific situation. It's been good for me to go out to different parts of the state and give them access to get their questions answered."

Smith was hired as a navigator when Charleston agency TSG Consulting received a federal grant. He's been traveling to different areas of the state, giving presentations and answering questions about the Affordable Care Act and helping enroll those who wish to sign up. He'll spend the next seven to eight months continuing that work.

According to Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, 1,237 West Virginians had enrolled in a health insurance plan on the state's marketplace as of Monday. Another approximately 75,000 residents have enrolled in Medicaid, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources.

TSG is focusing on rural parts of the state, but Smith gave a talk at West Virginia Health Right in Charleston on Wednesday morning. He'll be back there Thursday and again next week.

There's a big push to get people signed up and their first payment made by Dec. 23 in order for them to have health insurance beginning Jan. 1, Wilson said. People have until March 31, 2014, to sign up and pay their first month's payment in order to avoid facing a penalty on their taxes for not having insurance.

Wednesday morning saw a slow turnout, with only one participant and two local reporters showing up.

Howard Wilson, 37, of Charleston, said he was going to participate in a chair-aerobics class. He stayed when he found out that he read the schedule wrong and the class was actually about the ACA.

"I was actually really confused about the Affordable Care Act," Wilson said. "I'd never actually checked on it; [I'd] just heard it from other people and it sounded horrible."

After he heard the presentation?

"It sounds OK," Wilson said. "I'm not going to say it sounds horrible. It sounds OK."

Wilson, who's been out of work for about 10 months, is eligible for Medicaid under the expansion.

Smith, who guessed that the cold temperatures kept people away Tuesday morning, said he's helped 30 to 40 people sign up for health insurance and Medicaid.

The federal website, Healthcare.gov, which has been plagued with problems, has improved, he said.

"Anyone that's tried it before and couldn't get it to work, I'd encourage them to try again," Wilson said. "It's working a lot better."

TSG has a website where West Virginians can get answers to their questions about the ACA, http://acaforruralwv.com.

On the website, there are calculators for determining about how much insurance will cost.

Most people are not aware that they can get tax credits that are applied to their insurance bill monthly so they don't have to wait until their tax return is received to get their money back, Wilson said.

Smith will offer similar presentations at Health Right this week and next.

The sessions are scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. Dec. 18 and 6 p.m. Dec. 19.

For more information, see http://acaforruralwv.com.

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


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