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Certified ACA navigator Whitney Griggs was at the Dade County library on Friday helping local residents apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Another navigator is available at Primary Health Care.Certified ACA navigator Whitney Griggs was at the Dade County library on Friday helping local residents apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Another navigator is available at Primary Health Care.
 

By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

Readers may have heard that the rollout of the new federal health care online marketplace has not been without glitches. What certified Affordable Care Act navigator Whitney Griggs advises is: Remain calm.

“I have definitely run into issues with it,” she said. “I find that patience is the best.”

The Sentinel had noticed Ms. Griggs was scheduled to be available at the Dade County Library on Thursday to help Dade residents apply for insurance under ACA, or so-called Obamacare, and had decided to stop by to put a local face to the national initiative. The Sentinel found that face to be young, blond and, yes, patient. 

Sitting behind her laptop at a library table, Ms. Grigg, 26, said that though she had high hopes for the healthcare.gov website – “It’s getting better ever day, and it’s faster” – for the time being she was working with paper applications only: The site was down – again.

“There are prime busy times when there are a lot of people trying to get in,” she said. “I tell people if they can’t get in during the day to go back and try in the evening.”   

But that doesn’t always work, either, she said. “I know that there have also been times that they’ve taken it offline to do work,” said Ms. Griggs. “I’ve been told that Nov. 30 is the deadline that’s its going to be up and running and that’s what I’m waiting on, and we shall see.”

This was only her third enrollment event, said Ms. Griggs, but so far she had had to manage with the paper applications only.

“We’ve had a lot of success with the paper applications,” she said. “It’s a very simple application. All you need is your Social Security number and an estimate of what your 2014 income is going to be if you’re applying for subsidies. Then you just stick it in the mail and they mail you back your eligibility results.”

To wit, what federal subsidies the applicant is eligible for to help pay for which health insurance plan offered by private insurers in the applicant’s home state. That’s what the marketplace was set up to do online. But with the paper form, there is a longish turnaround time between mailing the application to the processing center in London, Ky., and receiving the eligibility letter.

“What I’ve asked the consumers that I’ve helped to do is to give me a call when they get their eligibility letter back, so then we can kind of sit down and discuss what that means to them and then we can start talking about what kind of health plan they want to purchase,” said Ms. Griggs. 

So far, though, that hasn’t happened, she said, and she’s been devoting some of the downtime to telling people about the Affordable Care initiative. “There’s a lot of people that are interested in it and there’s a lot of people that just don’t know what it is,” she said. “So that’s what I’ve found, that a lot of things I’m doing are more informational, answering questions, because there’s a lot of misinformation about it out there.” 

Ms. Griggs said she knows that opponents of ACA have mounted hostility toward navigators but that she has encountered none personally, and she didn’t mind furnishing a synopsis of her training:

Her normal employment is as a resource specialist for the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, said Ms. Griggs, responsible to the coalition for 10 counties in the northwest of the state including Dade. 

To become a federally-certified, state-licensed navigator, Ms. Griggs completed a series of online training modules and subsequent tests administered by the federal government; then she also attended classroom training and underwent a background check required by Georgia. She completed those requirements in mid-October.    

Applicants sign a consent form okaying Ms. Griggs to work with them, but she is not allowed to fill out the paper application form for them or key their personal responses into the online system (assuming it’s operational). They must do that themselves, though she is allowed to answer questions and walk them through the online process if they are unfamiliar with computers.

She answered a question the Sentinel relayed to her from a reader: Though Georgia has refused to expand Medicaid to include residents with income too low to qualify for health insurance subsidies, should such residents fill out the application anyway? And will they be allowed to buy such coverage as they can pay for without the subsidies from the marketplace?

Yes, said Ms. Griggs, in both cases. If an applicant wants the insurance it is certainly for sale through the marketplace whether the government helps subsidize it or not; but by filing the application showing the insurance is unaffordable at his or her income level, the applicant is also filing for exemption from any fines for not participating in the insurance initiative.

Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are all states that opted, as a Supreme Court Decision allowed them to do, out of expanding Medicare, leaving many of their poorest residents in the same place they were before ACA became law – uninsured and ill-equipped to pay for medical care independently.    

“I do see a lot of people that fall into that hole, so what we do then with them is refer them to local community resources, the federally qualified health centers and free clinics in their area, resources that they might not be aware of,” said Ms. Griggs.

Overall, asked the Sentinel in conclusion, how did Ms. Griggs think things were going for Obamacare? “It’s too soon right now for me to really tell,” she said. “I have had success stories, of people that haven’t been able to buy health insurance for years and years and years … and now they’re going to able to go see a doctor.”

And again, she counsels patience. “I haven’t, me personally, sat down with anyone and helped them pick a plan and helped them pay their first premium, which is the final step in getting health care,” she said. “But I have worked with people who, when they are able to get all the way through the system, health insurance is going to be available for them.”

If readers have questions for Ms. Griggs, they can reach her (770) 451-0020, extension 316, or email her at whitney.griggs@hmhbga.org.

Another federally certified navigator, Brittany Dee, works with patients at Dade’s Primary Health Care Center, and a University of Georgia navigator covers the same northwestern counties as Ms. Griggs.

 


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