Healthcare Navigators guide path to insurance coverage

PINELLAS COUNTY – Many individuals are unaware of the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare Insurance Marketplace. Others have misconceptions about the purpose and value, according to Natalie Jackson of Pinellas County’s Human Services department.

Funded through a federal grant program, certified Navigators are available throughout the community to assist anyone who needs help navigating the marketplace. This service is free of charge.

Jackson said the inherent value of the Navigator program lies in “connecting people who have not been insured or have used emergency rooms in lieu of insurance to better options on the Healthcare Insurance Marketplace.”

Jackson noted that those who don’t sign up for insurance would have to pay a hefty penalty in 2015. As part of the Affordable Care Act, those who do not obtain healthcare insurance coverage will have to pay an annual fine when they file their taxes. This year that amounts to $325, or two percent of their income, whichever is greater.

There are 11 Navigators stationed throughout Pinellas County. The Navigators are available to educate citizens regarding health insurance plans, subsidies and what the cost of plans really means. This year the Navigators have also received specialized training to assist small business owners in purchasing plans.

One of these Navigators is Pierre Guillet, who works out of an office in Pinellas Park. Like all Navigators, he went through extensive training which he says included numerous classes, an extensive background screening and a certification process overseen by the federal government.

A few weeks ago, Guillet was going about his typical day meeting with consumers seeking insurance coverage, when one case really affected him. This woman, according to Guillet, did not make much money, but was not qualified for Medicaid coverage.

“Not only was she panicked, she was truly afraid,” he said.

After going through the process of searching through healthcare.gov and inputting the consumer’s information, Guillet had good news. Thanks to federal subsidies available for qualified individuals, she qualified for dental and medical insurance coverage, at an affordable monthly rate.

Subsidies available to consumers vary, but according to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services, 87 percent of individuals so far have qualified for some type of subsidy.

Once he had information regarding the subsidies for which she qualified, he went over the numerous options available to the consumer. He says she had many options.

“I could see the relief come across her face,” he said.

When the consumer learned she would have healthcare insurance, Guillet said, “She cried tears of joy.” That is what he says makes his job so rewarding, that he is able to truly help others. According to Guillet, turning desperation to joy is a feeling like no other.

For more information, visit www.pinellascounty.org/navigators.

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