Tri-Cities Community Health has received a $25,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to offer health insurance eligibility assistance and enrollment guidance to the uninsured or who need to apply for reenrollment. The service is free and open to everyone.
[blockquote quote="... we help everyone, at no cost at all, they don’t have to be our patients." source="Martin Valadez, director of business development for Tri-Cities Community Health" align="right" max_width="300px"]
The $25,000 grant and designation as an Innovative Outreach and Enrollment Organization allows TCCH to advertise, promote and increase awareness of open enrollment dates. The designation covers Asotin, Benton, Franklin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla counties.
“A lot of what we do is education and hands-on help, it can get very complicated, we help everyone, at no cost at all, they don’t have to be our patients,” said Martin Valadez, TCCH’s director of business development and public affairs.
TCCH — like many low-income health centers across the U.S. — has a long history of providing eligibility assistance to patients and the community along with quality primary health care and mental health services.
The HRSA awards are issued to help consumers understand coverage options through the new health insurance marketplaces, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. TCCH can also help find the plans that fit them best, determine if they are eligible for financial help; and enroll in new affordable health coverage options.
These awards are aligned with other federal efforts, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services-funded Navigator program.
“We still get a lot of people who don’t know about the Affordable Care Act, they don’t know what a premium means, what a deductible means or out-of-pocket expenses,” said Ericka Reynaga, lead Navigator for TCCH. “We walk them through it, step-by-step. It can very complicated.”
Ron Odom was one of the client’s Reynaga helped.
“We came in to help our son out because he had some trouble signing up, and we came to her,” Odom said. “(Reynaga) has been a jewel to work with. She makes it so simple. She goes through all the different plans and is very thorough about showing you all your options. I don’t think we would be able to do it on our own. When you leave here, you feel like you accomplished something,”
Odom said the whole process took him about 30 minutes.
Valadez said the grant allows TCCH let the public know about open enrollment and the options available.
TCCH also hires and supports individuals trained to offer assistance in navigating the often-complex process of applying and qualifying for medical insurance through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. TCCH has hired two new navigators to help during December, one of the busiest months for open enrollment.
TCCH has also extended its hours to accommodate individuals who work normal business hours. It is now open until 6 p.m. on weekdays and is open on Saturdays. Valadez said that although most enrollments are done by appointment, they do accept some walk-ins.
“We started in October, and we’ve been working nonstop since then, going to a lot of events at schools,” Valadez said. “We’ve had enrollment events at the Mid-Columbia Libraries and other community events. We’re responsible to get people to sign up for a health insurance, or if they qualify for Medicaid. We want as many people covered as possible.”
For the past two years, the Benton-Franklin Community Action Committee retained the contract with HRSA, but was unable to continue to offer the service.
“We knew it was important for a local organization to take on that role,” said Valadez. “We’ve been providing this kind of assistance since the ACA passed. This just allowed us to expand our program and gave us more resources and more reach.”
TCCH also works closely with small businesses to offer assistance in enrolling their employees for health insurance. Under the ACA, businesses with 15 employees or less are not required to offer health insurance.
“Even if your employer offers insurance, it might not extend to other family members, or it might be too expensive,” said Valadez. “They can be on a different insurance than their spouse or child. We can help them look for a better plan for their family members.”
To apply for health insurance through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, enrollees have to be prepared with documentation relating to income, family size, school tuition and childcare expenses.
“We normally ask for latest tax return, pay stubs, birth certificates for family members, legal status and Social Security, as well as any health information,” said Reynaga. “We make sure everything is filled out correctly. We ask them questions to make sure they’re getting the best option. We read them their rights and responsibilities.”
Valadez mentioned that there are more than 100 health care plans available on the Exchange.
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For more information on getting help enrolling for health insurance or to make an appointment, call 509-543-1952. Visit Tri-Cities Community Health on the web at www.mytcch.org.
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