Affordable Care Act at a glance
Not eligible: People on Medicare, Veterans Administration benefits, Tricare or Indian Health Services, along with non-residents and those who get affordable health insurance from their companies. Affordable means that insurance that does not cost more than ...
For more information
Toll free number: 1-855-WAFINDER, or 855-923-4633; available now
Cost calculator: website
In-Person assisters: Columbia Valley Community Health in Wenatchee, East Wenatchee and Chelan; Family Health Centers in Oroville, Tonasket, Okanogan and Brewster; Quincy Community Health.
WENATCHEE — The YWCA’s hour-long Lunch ‘N Learn in Wenatchee Wednesday stretched into two as Matt McColm continued to answer the many questions people still had about the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s big. It’s intimidating. But when you break it down into small pieces, it becomes easy and understandable,” the Farmers Insurance broker from Quincy assured 10 people who gathered to learn about getting health insurance through Washington’s new Health Exchange, once enrollment begins Oct. 1.
Across the county, people are preparing for the first day when people who don’t have insurance or who don’t get affordable insurance from their employers, can check out and buy plans through a new exchange.
Individuals making up to $45,960, or $94,200 for a family of four, will qualify for reduced premiums.
McColm, one of the first brokers in the area to hold public sessions on Obamacare, says there’s much confusion and controversy around the new law. He’s worried people will hold off on signing up, and then find themselves in part of the mad rush to become enrolled before penalties for not having insurance.
Going to a registered insurance broker like McColm will be one of three options for people looking to sign up, said Bethany Frey, spokeswoman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which is overseeing the new insurance options available statewide.
Frey said people who are Internet savvy and understand insurance plans can sign up on their own. “The flow is intended to be very user-friendly,” she said. They can get help through a toll-free number, 1-855-WAFINDER, which is already answering phone calls from people with questions.
They can also use an in-person assistants, who work with non-profit groups.
Jesús Hernández, executive director of Community Choice Healthcare Network, is developing a network of in-person assistants who are trained to help.
They’ve partnered with clinics and hospitals throughout Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties.
Hernández said the 61 in-person assistants who have been trained through his organization will not have access to the actual plans, or the program allowing them to sign people up, until Oct. 1. But once they do, they’ll start taking appointments to walk people through the process. “We’re going to have a number of sites throughout the four-county area, so hopefully everyone will be able to find someone in close proximity to help,” he said.
Hernández said he’s hoping a lot of people will take advantage of all the help. “Because it’s so new, I’m thinking most people will want to seek help,” he said.
Frey said whichever way people decide to enroll will depend on an individual’s preference.
She said in-person assistants will be working across the state, but insurance brokers are an important piece of the state’s plan to help people sign up, because they have experience in the insurance field.
And, she said, “They’re the only individual who can actually recommend a plan to a consumer.” The new law prohibits people manning the state’s toll-free lines or in-person assistants from offering an opinion about plans, she said. “If someone goes through all the plans and says, ‘I really have no idea which one to choose,’ They’re the only one who can say, ‘Based on your income and your options, this looks like it would be a really good fit for you,’” she said.
McColm said he’ll get a small monthly commission for those he signs up, but it doesn’t cost his clients anything. “People ask why I’m doing this. There’s one in four people in Grant County without health insurance, and one in five in Chelan County. That alone is motivation.”
He said people who wait may find themselves searching for a broker who’s not too busy before penalties come into play.
After Wednesday’s meeting with McColm, Wenatchee resident Jef Michel said he can’t wait to sign up.
“According to the calculator, my monthly bill is going to go down by $500,” he said. Michel said he currently pays about $800 a month for himself, his wife and his 2-year-old son. “It looks like I’ll pay almost one-third of what I pay now, and I’m going to upgrade my coverage.”