Marketplace deadline is Jan. 31, Navigators urge everyone enroll

By Rachel Robles | Jan 24, 2017
Photo by: Rachel Robles The Healthcare Navigators with Mountain Projects meet for the month to discuss strategy and initiatives. In the front row, from left, are Sara Lewis, Jackson County; Marian Sparks, Cherokee County; Jan Plummer, program coordinator; and Susan Rose, Clay County; in the back row, Melissa Orr, Jackson County; Georgia Raines, Haywood County; Jane Harrison, Haywood County; and Linda Fitzsimmons, Graham and Swain counties

The deadline to enroll or change your Marketplace insurance plan for 2017 is Jan. 31, and navigators with Mountain Projects Inc. Marketplace Navigator Program are urging people to take action.

“Open Enrollment is still going. People have time to sign up,” said Jan Plummer, program coordinator. “For people who have Aetna and United Healthcare, there’s an additional month to sign up because those insurance companies pulled out of the Marketplace.”

The navigators, who work in and represent the western counties, met on Jan. 23 to discuss initiatives and their role during tax season, as those who received subsidies last year are required to have a special tax form to file taxes.

Melissa Orr, Navigator for Jackson County, had a success story — An undergraduate student at Western Carolina University was able to get insurance for an affordable price thanks to the help she got from Orr.

At WCU, it’s mandatory for students to have health insurance in order for them to attend classes. The college offers a plan, Student Blue, but it’s expensive and students often have to take out additional loans to pay for it.

The student Orr helped works receives no assistance from her family and works full-time to pay for school.

“We got her premium at $5 a month … and now she doesn’t have to take out an additional loan,” said Orr. “Now she can continue her studies and not owe [a lot]. Plus the coverage she gets is more extensive.”

There is some concern in the community about whether it’s worth getting insurance this year, considering President Trump’s promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But Plummer says we shouldn’t worry.

“We can’t speculate about what’s going to happen,” she said. “For now, the ACA is the law of the land. Financial assistance is available. … We encourage people to come in and not avoid coming and seeing a Navigator because they’re concerned or speculating about what might happen.”

And even if the law is repealed, Plummer said that nothing will happen fast.

For those who fall into the Medicaid gap — those who don’t qualify for Medicaid but don’t make the minimum $12,000 to qualify for a Marketplace plan — there are local resources in the county, like the Good Samaritan Clinic and the Haywood Health Center.

“It’s important to use local resources,” said Carmine Rocco, executive director of the Good Samaritan Clinic. “I think having a strong community network and system is critical in continuing to provide service to everybody who needs it.”

For those who don’t have insurance but require case management for their care, the Good Samaritan Clinic is open to all, especially those in the Medicaid gap.

The Haywood Health Center, established by Blue Ridge Health, is open to anyone who needs primary medical care. The center is accepting new patients and there is no waiting list.

Since the Good Samaritan Clinic’s partnership with Blue Ridge Health approximately eight months ago, the Haywood Health Center has been seeing about 200 people a month and 70 percent are uninsured. And its numbers continue to rise.

“A strong system like we have, working closely with Jan and the navigators help us connect with people who need help,” said Rocco.

Get involved before the deadline. Don't miss out on the following enrollment events:

— Wednesday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Haywood Community College student center auditorium, 185 Freedlander Drive, Clyde

— Thursday, Jan. 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Haywood County Public Library, 678 S. Haywood St., Waynesville

The public is invited. Navigators will be on hand to help anyone enroll in healthcare, answer questions, help download and print necessary tax forms and discuss possible exemptions for this year and last year.


11:47 a.m. Jan. 25, 2017 — This article has been corrected.