Class teaches health service employees ins and outs of Obamacare
VALPARAISO — The room was packed with students busy highlighting binders full of handouts and peppering instructor Carla Baxter with questions.
But this was no ordinary class. Employees of community health centers and Ivy Tech students were learning about the ins and outs of serving as a Navigator, who assist people in the enrollment process for the federal health insurance exchange. The enrollment period starts Tuesday, and it marks a significant milestone in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
The ACA identified federally qualified health centers as uniquely positioned to reach out to those who are uninsured.
“When you think about who our patients are, they typically are underinsured or uninsured, so we already serve that populations,” said HealthLinc CEO Beth Wrobel. “A lot of it going to be assessing what they need, which is what we do everyday.”
For someone who has never had insurance, the world of deductibles and co-payments can prove confusing, Wrobel said. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released cost estimates for those who choose to purchase insurance on the federal exchange. Monthly premiums are expected to range from $100 a month for single adults to $1,000 a month for a family of four earning more than $94,200. Individuals and families who meet certain income guidelines can receive subsidized rates.
HealthLinc received a $175,000 federal grant, as did the Community HealthNet and North Shore Health Centers, to hire Navigators, but Wrobel said they will be supplementing new workers by training existing employees. The enrollment period will last for six months.
“There are an estimated 140,000 uninsured people from Lake to St. Joseph’s County, which is a lot of people,” Wrobel said. “We’re biting the bullet and training all of our intake people and managers. It’s going to be all hands on deck.”
More than 40 students in Baxter’s class were in the midst of a 3-day, 24-hour training session. Baxter, who is a certified instructor for Indiana’s enrollment certification process, is the Principal Consultant for Baxter and Associates Consulting Services LLC. To become a Navigator, Baxter said they must fill out an application and pay a fee, attend the class, then score at least 70 percent on the exam. In order to be certified, they must pass a criminal background check and fill out a conflict of interest disclosure form.
Twelve of the students in the class were students in Ivy Tech Community College’s certification in health care access program.
“The exam is next week, and some of our students have already been selected for hiring,” said Ivy Tech adjunct instructor Tina Coleman. “We’re very excited because all the individuals were out of work even though some had degrees.”
Amy Ruiz, who is an in-reach coordinator at North Shore, was impressed by the information and level of detail in the training.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions of how it’s going to work,” Ruiz said. “I just hope, after we sign people up, it actually takes effect Jan. 1.”
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010, and since then, it’s survived many attempts to defund it, including a current effort by the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Wrobel said current HealthLinc patients will receive information about the insurance options during intake, but they are also in the process of setting up external training sessions and looking to partner with churches and other organizations to reach underserved populations.
“We’ll give it our best shot and just go for it, but we know we will have to tweak the process at some point,” Wrobel said. “We’re starting to get questions in terms of ‘what’s this going to cost,’ and I don’t know what the credits are going to look like at this point.”