Despite technical problems, outreach for new health insurance marketplace is strong, organizers say

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comNovember 6, 2013 

MCT

Website glitches might have slowed the new federal health insurance marketplace, but they haven't stopped the effort to spread the word in Beaufort County, say those charged with helping people sign up for coverage.

Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services and the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce received grants in July to train "health navigators" to teach and guide interested applicants through the process.

Technical problems since the marketplace's opening Oct. 1 have blocked many from applying for health insurance nationwide. But Gaynelle Dantzler, Comprehensive Health Services' administrative director of reimbursement services, said the health center in Okatie conducted nearly 35 educational sessions in October about the new health insurance marketplace. Black Chamber of Commerce president Larry Holman said the chamber made 15 presentations in October.

Attendance at some of the health center's events has topped 200, Dantzler said. Holman said the Black Chamber's presentations had varied more, from about 15 people to a high of 150 who attended a session Oct. 31.

Neither organization could provide a tally of how many people they had helped enroll.

Dantzler said Friday the health center was still compiling figures from its six health navigators in the field. Holman said the chamber had only guided about five people through the process from start to finish, but had received several calls and emails from people who had successfully applied on their own after attending one of the chamber's sessions.

Holman said the low enrollment number for the chamber came because its sessions focused on explaining how the marketplace worked and signing people up to access the site.

Holman and Dantzler did say some clients reported problems finishing the online application or even creating an account.

The problems also have hampered the local presentations.

Holman said a big part of the chamber's mission was teaching an audience who "may not be computer literate" how to create a user account on the website -- or in some cases, how to create an email account. That training was rendered useless when applicants had to file paper applications because the website didn't work.

Dantzler said the health center had steered interested people to the paper applications or a toll-free number to find insurance while the website was out of service.

The federal government "is diligently working toward a solution, and we're hopeful the website's misfortunes will turn soon," she said. "It's been a slow process so far."

Holman said those calling to report problems with the website don't seem particularly frustrated by it.

"We've gotten calls that there were issues with the website, but the thing about it is that no one has called upset about it," Holman said. "They usually tell us where it stopped. We heard from someone who had been unsuccessful three times, but they weren't frustrated."

Holman said he thought people were being patient with the website because there aren't time constraints to apply for health insurance.

"People have time to sign up, and they know that," he said. "They know they're also getting a good deal once they are able to get on. We had a woman come in who signed up after trying a few times, and she was just as happy as she could be."

Both organizations say they will continue their outreach this month.

Dantzler said the health center had reached out to 50 organizations about making presentations, while Holman said the chamber had 12 more presentations planned through Nov. 16.

Both were optimistic the website's performance would improve within the month.

"The website's process goes a little further each week," Holman said. "We're hoping it will get better within the next two weeks."

Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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