As part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, health insurance exchanges were set up in every state to allow residents to search through a marketplace of private insurers to obtain health care.
The Franklin County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday morning to approve an agreement with the Kansas Association of the Medically Underserved (KAMU), to allow the county’s health department to assist individuals and small businesses with the insurance exchange.
“Navigators across the nation go through training to understand the system, to work with the system and help people who may be having difficulty understanding the [insurance] plans,” Midge Ransom, director of the health department, said. “If they’ve never had insurance, do they understand what premiums, copays and co-insurance are? It’s just helping people understand insurance and what they might pay and answering questions they might have regarding subsidies.”
Two local officials already are certified as navigators, Ransom said, and she hopes more people will earn the certification.
“I’m a navigator and Leslea Rockers [with the East Central Kansas Area Agency on Aging] is a navigator and we are the only two who have that training thus far,” Ransom said. “I’m trying to get some of my staff trained as certified application counselors, which is the same, but they don’t have to talk to people and do community education. They’ll just help individuals. We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get them through the education.”
Navigators must go through a training process because they have access to residents’ personal health information, Ransom said.
“The agreement [with KAMU] is to help assure that the people who are navigating agree not to promote one insurance company over another,” she said. “In order for me to be a navigator, I had to be approved through KAMU and had to pass a background check because it is dealing with people’s personal information, and that’s protected by HIPPA [or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act].”
“We encourage people to at least check [the insurance exchange],“ she said. “We want to encourage people to check out the possibilities through getting insurance through the marketplace because it provides them access to care and preventative care as well as care when they’re sick.”
Those wanting to set up an appointment to discuss health insurance options or have questions answered can do so during the health department’s normal business hours at 1418 S. Main St., Suite 1, Ottawa, Ransom said.
“If they just wanted someone to help them understand the different plans and different amounts for each plan and we can help them with that,” she said. “I’m also hoping to do some question-and-answer lunch sessions soon.”