Affordable Care Act discussed locally
10/03/2013 - The Journal. By Jenni Vincent.
MARTINSBURG - Local people are beginning to enroll for health care coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, but area professionals involved with that process are continuing to try to make it as easy as possible.
That's why members of the "Eastern Panhandle Collaboration for Outreach, Education and Enrollment under the Affordable Care Act" - including officials, organizations, state and local agencies, hospitals and clinics - got together Tuesday morning.
At the one-hour meeting hosted by the Shenandoah Community Health Center, they updated one another on first-day enrollment numbers - online marketplaces went live Tuesday for the first time - and discussed the various venues in the tri-county region now available to help uninsured people obtain health insurance.
The good news is that several options and locations are available to the public for this purpose.
Individuals can enroll at Shenandoah Community Health Center, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the Berkeley County Health Department, Berkeley Medical Center, Jefferson Medical Center, Tristate Community Health Center and Starting Points in Berkeley Springs. Information is also available at the Eastern Panhandle Free Clinic in Ranson.
Shenandoah Community Health Center and the Berkeley County Health Department received grants to hire employees who are trained and available to help citizens as they enroll for health care coverage.
Residents as well as patients can receive help through the Shenandoah Community Health Center, according to its enrollment coordinator Sara Koontz, who chaired the session. She and four other community assistors will be working in various locations - including Martinsburg, Berkeley Springs, Charles Town and Winchester, Va. - helping individuals.
A "remote station" is also being set up near the health center's Tavern Road site. Additionally, these employees have laptops that can be taken out into the community. Fellow employee Katherine Lluberes is bilingual and will be available to help Spanish-speaking people.
Appointments are already being requested, according to Koontz. Email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Diana Gaviria said a mini-grant had been used to hire J.P. Shanholtzer as a community assistor to help with public education, outreach and enrollment at the Berkeley County Health Department.
By law, citizens must have health insurance beginning Jan. 1, 2014, or pay a penalty.
An open enrollment period began Tuesday and runs through March 31, 2014. Information on marketplace coverage is available online at HealthCare.gov and enrollwv.org.
Kelly Tanksley, director of development for the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library, said free computers are available through the library system and can be used by individuals interested in researching or signing up for health care coverage.
DHHR Community Services Manager Kathy Bradley said it's good that people have options.
"And it's important to know there is no wrong door when it comes to enrolling. You can go to Enroll America, to one of our community partners who are here today or even call the toll-free telephone number that goes into the marketplace. There just is no wrong door for applying for affordable health care," Bradley said following Tuesday's meeting.
At that time, she reported two individuals had applied in Jefferson County, one in Morgan County and several in Berkeley County during the first few hours when enrollments were being accepted.
In addition, letters were sent statewide to approximately 117,000 individuals already receiving some form of public assistance informing them that they were automatically eligible for the expanded Medicaid coverage. Of the approximately 10,000 letters sent out to recipients in the Eastern Panhandle, DHHR officials have received responses from about one-third of those individuals, Bradley said.
That means about 3,000 other people are now going to be receiving health coverage who were not eligible before, she said.
"I'm really proud to say that we worked hard and were ready to go," Bradley said.
Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said he was pleased about the expanded Medicaid program.
"In the beginning we didn't know if that was going to happen, so I worked with some of my colleagues to write a letter to the governor asking him to please sign us up for Medicaid expansion. We'll take credit for convincing him that West Virginia was exactly the kind of place it would have an enormous impact," Skinner said.
"The people it will help are working folks, working at part- or full-time jobs at the minimum wage with no access to health care coverage - until now," he said.
People without Internet service can also call 800-318-2596, a toll-free, 24-hour health insurance marketplace to get additional information.
Ashley Adams, eastern regional coordinator for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said it was a time to celebrate because so many people will now have the necessary insurance coverage.
She said her nonprofit organization projects 170,000 West Virginians will be enrolled in the next three years.
"We've been waiting for this for so long, but now the wait is over. It's a very exciting time," Adams said.