Healthcare Navigators Report Easier Time Helping Clients

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Healthcare navigator Jessica May (right) goes over different plans with Shelby Conrad, 60, of Clintonville. Conrad is on the fence about whether to choose a plan or take a penalty for not having individual health insurance.(Photo: Thomas Bradley, WOSU Public Media)
Healthcare navigator Jessica May (right) goes over different plans with Shelby Conrad, 60, of Clintonville. Conrad is on the fence about whether to choose a plan or take a penalty for not having individual health insurance.(Photo: Thomas Bradley, WOSU Public Media)

By all accounts, this week has been better for the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act and for people looking to buy health insurance.
After two months of trouble healthcare.gov seems to be working. That’s a relief to Central Ohioans buying insurance and those trying to help them do it.

“It’s a completely different world than when I saw you last,” Jessica May said.

WOSU visited May Oct. 1, the day healthcare.gov “opened.” May is a healthcare navigator with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. She helps people navigate through the health insurance choices on the Obamacare website.

Her first few weeks were not easy as she coped with slow access, frozen screens and frustrated callers.

Now she said, “The website is working. It’s working all the way through.”

On this day, a list of insurance providers quickly fills May’s computer screen. Lots of info: monthly premiums, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-pocket max, benefits.

Shelby Conrad, from Clintonville, sits next to May as she sifts through the information.

“So it looks like Medical Mutual has the preferred network that you want to go with, as well as if you had to go out [of network] for anything else, they’d have that coverage, as well,” May noted.

Conrad, who’s 60 and uninsured, hasn’t seen a doctor in five years. She hopes to be covered by January first. She’s been on the site six times to compare plans. This is her second visit with May.

“Sometimes a light bulb will go on. And I’ll figure out something that all the information is trying to say to me,” Conrad said. “And then I have no ability to verify that I have the idea, the concept right. Which is why I’m back to talk to the navigator.”

May said it’s typical to see a consumer at least three times before they decide on a plan.

The computer trouble kept customers away. Federal officials say only 1,150 Ohioans had bought insurance through the exchange in the first month of the website’s operation.

May said the Foodbank seems to have had more success with the website than other groups.

“We’re not exactly sure why. I don’t think it’s because we’re magical. It may have to do with some settings or something,” May said.

While there are fewer problems with the site, navigators at the foodbank association still see occasional glitches.

“But one thing I have to say in all the weeks that we’ve been working on the website, we learned how to create work-arounds for things,” she said. “So it doesn’t even stress us out now when it gets caught in a loop. We’ve seen this. We’ve got this. So the website itself is just, it’s fully functioning which is fantastic.”

“So this plan in particular plan has a $6,000 deductible, and it looks like about $1,658 for the year for the premiums,” May told Conrad.

That’s the cost of the plan Shelby Conrad really likes. But she’s not ready to commit. Conrad worries about the deductible.

“Do I wait out a year because what I will need to pay in a penalty it about $300 and try again next year?…Do I continue doing the same thing I’ve been doing and take a bet my health will hold out?”

Conrad leaves. She said she’ll be back to see her navigator again.

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