Are you ready for Obamacare?
Uninsured Americans have less than a week until health care marketplaces open for enrollment.
The marketplaces, created under the Affordable Care Act, are intended to provide more health choices for consumers. And under Obamacare provisions, those without health insurance will face a fine.
Cover Oregon is the name of the game for Oregonians looking to get insured — or change their coverage.
An estimated 13 percent of Oregonians are uninsured, said Howard “Rocky” King, executive director of Cover Oregon. The group hopes to have that number down to 5 percent within two years.
According to a 2011 Oregon Health Insurance Survey, Region 1, which includes Baker, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties, had the highest rate of uninsured residents in the state at 20.6 percent for all ages and 9.8 percent for those up to age 18.
Beginning Tuesday, people will have the ability to enroll in Cover Oregon, which will offer plans for individuals as well as for employers. It will also direct those who qualify to the Oregon Health Plan, Medicaid and Healthy Kids, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan in Oregon.
More than 1,600 agents and 1,200 community partners statewide have been trained to help people enroll and get started on plans.
In Union, Wallowa and Baker counties, the Northeast Oregon Network (NEON), was selected as a community partner grantee organization, meaning it has received funding to provide outreach and enrollment assistance.
Executive Director Lisa Ladendorff said NEON is partnering with other groups like Building Healthy Famlies and Eastern Oregon Headstart to roll out the new health exchange.
“We’re actually looking to begin scheduling and seeing people the second week in October,” Ladendorff said. “What folks can do is they can contact us. We will set up an appointment and we walk them through it right from the get-go.”
Volunteers from health care providers who have been trained by Cover Oregon can also assist with the application process. Winding Waters Clinic in Wallowa and St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City have such volunteers, Ladendorff said.
Grande Ronde Hospital spokesperson Mardi Ford said they, too, have trained application assistors.
“We have six staff members — one at each of our five clinics and one who is located in a private office in our hospital admitting area — ready to help,” Ford said.
These “navigators” will begin seeing people for appointments Tuesday.
Small businesses looking to provide insurance coverage through the exchange will have to wait a little longer to get started. Work on applications will begin in mid-October, but open enrollment will not start until Nov. 1.
Cover Oregon’s King said employers have several options to choose from. They can pick the plan and carrier, or they can select a level or levels of coverage and allow employees to choose a plan. Employers can also opt to detail how much they can contribute per month per employee and allow employees to shop based on that. Small business enrollment will be open year-round.
“It will be good for the employees and, we think, good for small businesses because it takes them out of really having to choose a plan and a carrier. They need to focus on what they do best, running a business,” King said.
Individuals hoping to secure plans should enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage to begin Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment goes through March. Those who enroll after Dec. 15 will have coverage beginning after about a month.
King said those interested in Cover Oregon should visit the website, which will have information on community partners and agents on Tuesday. It also has a calculator that can help people see what level of financial assistance they may be eligible for and browse plans.
Cover Oregon’s call center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
“That was really important to us,” King said. “We’ll adjust those hours based on when that call volume comes in.”
Information those enrolling should have on hand for their application is their Social Security number, citizenship or immigration information; information on all of the individuals in the family applying for coverage; and information on projected income for 2014.
King said the launch may have hiccups but that plenty of support staff will be on hand to handle any problems.
“In six months we may wonder how we got through it, but thousands of Oregonians will have health insurance that they don’t have today,” he said. “That’s what this has always been about. It’s about getting people access to health care.”