NELSONVILLE – With the Trump administration having defunded advertising for enrollment in health-care exchanges, some private nonprofits are trying to pick up the slack. To that end, the group Get Ohio Covered held a press conference in Nelsonville last week highlighting the importance of obtaining health insurance.

Enrollment at Healthcare.gov for insurance coverage in 2018 through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act is available through Dec. 15. The enrollment period began Nov. 1. Outside of this enrollment period, people can only enroll otherwise if they qualify via certain life events such as getting married, having a baby, or losing employer-based coverage.

The Trump administration also cut the enrollment period in half for federal exchanges. They had run through Jan. 31 in previous years.

“Without marketing and local outreach support available after cuts by the Trump administration, it is up to local leaders to help residents sign up for the coverage they need,” Get Ohio Covered said in a press release announcing the event.

In August, the Trump administration cut the Affordable Care Act health-insurance marketplace advertising budget by 90 percent. That budget funded thousands of health-care navigator job and outreach efforts throughout the country. The administration claimed that the cuts were necessary, saying the health-insurance navigator program had run its course and was inefficient.

The move drew widespread opposition, including from the Kaiser Family Foundation health research group that said there’s “no doubt that cuts to outreach and advertising will result in more people uninsured.”

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks ran the ACA navigator program in Ohio and leveled sharp criticism at the Trump administration, charging that the cuts undermine the organization’s ability to reach vulnerable, hard-to-serve populations.

“We are a critical part of a larger effort to ensure that Americans don’t go without affordable, quality health care,” said OAF Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt. “Thanks to affordable options through the (Healthcare.gov) marketplace and the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, nearly one million Ohioans have gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. We view that as an undeniable success.”

Last Monday at the Nelsonville Public Library, First Presbyterian Church minister Peter Galbraith, Nelsonville City Council member-elect Margaret Gingerich Gustafan, and Athens City Council member-elect Sarah Grace spoke about the importance of the enrollment period.

Grace recalled being diagnosed with cancer in her twenties, recovering, and then finding out that no insurance company would approve her for individual coverage due to her having had cancer as a pre-existing condition. The Affordable Care Act put an end to that by preventing insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions.

“I was told no one will insure you; you have carcinoma in your medical records,” Grace recalled. “It was really frightening. I was facing huge potential financial loss.”

The ACA’s provision banning this exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions is “incredibly important and absolutely vital,” Grace said, also citing other ACA provisions such as the elimination of lifetime insurance coverage caps.

Galbraith said people need to know that open enrollment for insurance in 2018 is happening right now, and resources are still available to help people make sure they and their families are covered.

“We are relying on our local communities to share that and the importance of it. It’s a moral issue,” he said. “It goes back to this idea that health care is a fundamental right and not a benefit, and not something that one should be excluded from because of their financial status.”

Galbraith said a lot of myths and confusion are circulating regarding the ACA recently. “We’re getting word out to our friends, our neighbors and families that this is the time for coverage,” he said.

Gustafan said that she has had personal experience trying to navigate getting health insurance on her own and ended up falling victim to an internet scam.

“I thought that I had done my homework and I asked all kinds of questions and I still got scammed,” she said.

At that point, Gustafan said, she decided to contact local Mathews Insurance agent Brenda Swank, who helped her navigate the Healthcare.gov exchange and obtain insurance.

“She went through everything with me and made it really easy,” she said. “I was really intimidated. I didn’t want to get scammed again.”

She noted that while the Trump administration has defunded federal navigators who used to help people, the ACA exchange does still offer a directory to find local help at https://localhelp.healthcare.gov.

For the 45701 zip code, the site lists a variety of agents and assisters, including Swank and Brian Miller at Mathews, Lisa McDaniel at Snider, Fuller and Stroh, Hopewell Health Centers, David Loge in Nelsonville, and Wendy Porter at Porter Financial Services in The Plains.

“Making it as easy as you can, I can’t tell you how important that is,” Gustafan said.

Grace said that those who are most vulnerable and in need of knowing what’s available often are those least likely to get that information.

“It’s about making sure the coverage is what you need it to be, especially that children are covered,” she said, noting that people need to know access to health care is available and political gamesmanship isn’t what’s important.

Galbraith agreed that at its heart this is not a political issue.

“This is an issue that demands attention for everyone, and getting the right information for health-care access is so important,” he said. “So it’s unfortunate sometimes that it gets clouded.”

 

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