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The region hustles as health care deadline looms

Methodist Hospitals financial services team leader Samuel Jelks Jr. talks with Ercell JacksJr. left about federal health insurance exchange. The

Methodist Hospitals financial services team leader Samuel Jelks Jr. talks with Ercell Jackson Jr., left, about the federal health insurance exchange. The deadline to sign up for health insurance is March 31. | Christin Nance Lazerus~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 24, 2014 10:03AM



MERRILLVILLE — Gary resident Darlene Deloney recently had her hours trimmed at her job, which caused her to lose her health insurance. But her employer told her about the federal insurance exchange, and within a week, she had regained coverage.

She signed up for a Blue Cross silver HMO plan.

“I received more than $600 in tax credits, so I ended up paying about what I used to pay for insurance,” Deloney said at a Methodist Hospitals information session. “It was easy to fill out the application and she (the navigator) did most of the work.

“Today, I’m actually here to help my son sign up.”

The time is winding down for people to enroll in the health insurance exchanges, and hospitals and community health centers are seeing an uptick in interest as March 31 looms. Individuals who opt-in for coverage between now and March 31 will see their policies start May 1. If individuals don’t find health coverage by March 31, they will be assessed a penalty on their 2014 tax return.

Deloney’s son, Ercell Jackson Jr., is unemployed and wanted to learn more about the enrollment process. He had insurance through a previous job, but when he lost his job, his coverage ended. It has really influenced how he accesses health care.

“It’s changed what I do a lot,” Jackson said. “I can’t go to the doctor that often otherwise they’ll be coming after me with bills. I read that just an emergency room visit can set you back $20,000 to $30,000.”

Crown Point resident Stephanie Baker wanted to look into gaining coverage for herself and her son.

“Now the pressure is on because it’s the end of the month,” Baker said. “We haven’t had insurance for 25 years. I’m still not old enough for Medicare.”

As of March 1, 64,972 Indiana residents have enrolled in a federal marketplace plan out of 143,189 who were eligible for the marketplace; nationwide, the number is 4.2 million. Indiana residents can sign up only on the federal exchange because Indiana opted not to establish its own exchange. The marketplace also determined that 65,846 Indiana residents were eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The state has yet to expand its Medicaid program, which could allow an additional 400,000 adults to gain health coverage.

HealthLinc CEO Beth Wrobel said the health centers have assisted about 4,500 people since Oct. 1, submitting 850 applications and helping 400 pick their plans.

“We’re careful in helping them,” Wrobel said. “We’ll ask them what’s important to them — a certain doctor, hospital, etc. — and walk them through the process.”

This month, staff members are receiving about 500 calls a week.

“We’ve had a lot of people calling, saying, ‘You helped a friend of mine, can you help us too?’ ” she said.

Wrobel emphasized that individuals are eligible to enroll anytime they experience a life event, such as a new baby, marriage, divorce, death or loss of job. Even if an individual gets a new job, they should update their profiles with the information, she said.

Yvette Hernandez, a regional financial counselor supervisor for Community Healthcare System, said the federal website ­— healthcare.gov — has been working great since December. Hernandez said some of the early applications had to be resubmitted.

“We’ve had about 267 applications submitted, and we do about three seminars per month, where we set up appointments,” Hernandez said.

Through then end of February, Methodist Hospitals had 236 people make appointments and 100 people attend seminars.

“We still get a lot of people walking in,” said Methodist spokesperson Evelyn Morrison.



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