Published December 12, 2021, by Frank Gerjevic
There’s still time to sign up for health care – and navigators to show the way.
The woman came with her shoulders hunched, braced for bad news. Instead of bad news, she met Jennifer Brandt, one of United Way’s health care navigators working at an Affordable Care Act open enrollment event at the Mat-Su Health Foundation.
Brandt said the woman was living on Social Security but not old enough for Medicare. She lived with her disabled husband and a grandson they had adopted as their own, who also needed coverage. She was convinced any health care plan would “cost a fortune.”
“We got a very, very reasonable plan — $10 a month,” Brandt said. “She left in tears. I could literally see her shoulders go down.” Brandt also secured Medicaid coverage for her grandson.
“She was so relieved to get coverage – affordable coverage.”
Affordable health insurance coverage – much more affordable than you might think – is available. That’s the message that Brandt, her fellow health care navigators and United Way of Anchorage are trying to get out across Alaska during the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period. For coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2022, the sign-up deadline is Dec. 15. Open enrollment will continue through Jan. 15, 2022, but those who enroll after Dec. 15 coverage will begin Feb. 1, 2022.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Brandt said. She’s heard plenty. One woman who qualified for Medicaid believed the government would take all of her assets. Wrong. There’s a persistent belief that policies on the ACA market are too expensive. Wrong.
And, Brandt said, people have questioned who’s paying her – in other words, are they getting pitched by an agent for an insurance company? She’s familiar with that, having been “a health insurance agent in a previous life.”
United Way’s health care navigators are paid through a federal grant. They work for Alaskans who come to them for help, period. They don’t pitch anyone’s plan. They learn what each enrollee needs and provide clarity on what each of the 11 plans available in Alaska offer, so enrollees can make the best choice for themselves and their families.
“I’m not going to press you, I’m not going to push you,” Brandt said.
She and her colleagues will go above and beyond the script to help Alaskans get health insurance. Brandt had one couple who qualified for insurance from an employer. By law, ACA policies aren’t available to those who have access to affordable health insurance through their employer, so “we weren’t able to sign them up.” But what Brandt did do was take them through a primer about exactly what insurance terms mean – deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance. Better-informed, the couple signed up with their employer by phone during their session with Brandt.
“They had questions. They were just so relieved they had somebody there to help them.”
Anne Triest, one of Brandt’s navigator colleagues who works in Fairbanks, spelled it out succinctly. With one-on-one sessions, United Way navigators offer “three big advantages.”
1) “Having that time for people.” Triest mentioned hours spent with one enrollee over several appointments to answer every question. You can’t always count on that with an 800 number or online.
2) “Being local and in the community.” Triest had one client who heard her interviewed on KFAR Radio in Fairbanks. He’d been “inundated with information from different brokers” and was delighted to be able to speak in person with someone at the Noel Wien Library. She helped him enroll in a gold level coverage plan. “He just couldn’t stop thanking me, he was just so excited.”
3) “Being an unbiased source of information they can trust.” That trust pays off not just in superb service and peace of mind for enrollees but in local word-of-mouth advertising. Triest recalled a woman from Healy who called when Triest was on the radio show. “I wasn’t able to give her a lot of great news,” Triest said, but the woman was sufficiently impressed to say “I’m gonna help you get the word out in Healy.” “She got the navigator service mentioned in the school newsletter and a local facebook group, and told others in the community, several of whom ended up contacting Triest themselves.
“I don’t think we can over advertise on this issue,” Brandt said, with the first enrollment just days away. The cost of policies has gone down; tax credits have gone up. Health care insurance through the Affordable Care Act for 2022 is more affordable than ever.
“It’s worth looking into, worth five minutes of your time to see if you qualify,” Brandt said. “You don’t have to go it alone. We’re here to help.”
And, as Triest added, United Way’s 10 navigators are here for the long haul. “When we finish this enrollment, we’re available all year round to help with follow-up issues.”
A call to United Way’s Alaska 2-1-1 helpline will get you connected to a navigator. And like the woman in Healy, help spread the word. You’ll be spreading good health to Alaska families.