Call Center Reports/News
Health insurance exchange launches Tuesday
By Becky Orr
CHEYENNE -- Starting Tuesday, Wyoming residents can go online and shop for health insurance.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to open online health insurance exchanges in Wyoming and 35 other states that day.
People can visit www.health care.gov to shop for a plan and enroll.
There are three ways to enroll: online, by telephone or with a paper application.
Even though the start date is near, there is uncertainty among consumers about it, Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig said Friday.
His employees have answered lots of calls from people who want to know how the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, will affect them.
“The important thing is that it is not a generic act. It affects people individually,” he said. “There are different subsidies, different requirements n it will be so specific to the individual.”
His advice is to go slow and stay patient. There is plenty of time to sign up, he said.
The Oct. 1 start is not a deadline, but instead marks the opening of a store, a shopping marketplace, he said.
“Don’t panic. People are so stressed about this Oct. 1 deal,” he said. “But the consumer deadline is Dec. 14.”
If the online system functions correctly, people will be able to look around on the website and get qualified and enrolled.
Health insurance plans will not take effect until Jan. 1, he said. “You can’t go in Oct. 1 and buy a plan that will take effect Oct. 1.”
Dec. 14 is an important date to remember, he said. A person has to enroll in a plan by Dec. 15 so that it will go into effect Jan. 1, he said. He wants people to make sure they are signed up and said they should have it done by Dec. 14.
A second important deadline is March 31. “If you don’t buy health insurance by then, you can’t buy it until October 2014 on the exchange or anyplace else,” he said.
Some exemptions exist. People who experience a life-altering event n like a job loss or get married n can enroll outside the time period.
He hopes technology problems will not occur with the launch of the online marketplace, but he said it is likely.
“I would probably wait a week and let it get ironed out and then go in there and take a look,” he said. “You have a big window” to sign up.
Two entities in Wyoming have contracts with the federal government to train people how to use the new system. They are Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Wyoming Senior Citizens Inc. of Riverton.
CRMC’s Tracy Brosius is the head of the navigator program, which trains people to help consumers.
Starting Tuesday, consumers who enter the online system can create accounts. The system will pull in state-specific plans that people would be eligible for and provide side-by-side comparisons of plans that might interest them, Brosius said.
People will need to have their Social Security number ready when they log in if they want to enroll in an insurance plan, Brosius said.
They also need to know their household income to find out if they qualify for subsidies to reduce insurance costs.
They should know ahead of time about how much they can pay for insurance, said Phyllis Sherard, also of CRMC.
“That will help you select a plan that will help you meet your needs,” she said.
People also can call Wyoming 211 to get help.
Anyone can shop on the exchange, according to Hirsig.
The target markets are people who are not eligible for employer-based insurance and those who are self-insured or uninsured, Brosius said.
Those on Medicare are already covered and do not need to shop on the exchange.
People insured through their employers do not have to use the online shopping system, either.
Those with insurance from their jobs who think the cost is too high may be allowed to shop on the exchange for cheaper coverage.
If an employer’s insurance plan is found to be unaffordable, employees will be able to shop on the exchange.
A formula will determine whether the insurance is affordable. If an employee pays more than 9.5 percent of their family income to health insurance, it will be considered unaffordable, Hirsig said.
If a person is eligible for employer-based health insurance and the formula says it is affordable, he or she will not be able to buy it on the exchange.
Whether people who buy on the exchange will be eligible for subsidies to reduce insurance costs depends on their incomes. The online site, www.healthcare.gov, is the only place a person can get subsidies or tax credits to cut insurance costs, Brosius said.
People need to shop both the exchange and outside markets, Hirsig said. “We don’t know what is going to be absolutely the best for anyone.”
All medical plans on the exchange have gone through a qualification period to make sure they provide the essential health benefits required by Affordable Care Act.
Wyoming companies on the exchange are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINhealth.
“There is an individual mandate to do this,” Sherard said, meaning every individual has to have health insurance under the federal law.
People should know what health-care coverage does for them, given the costs of health care, Sherard said.
The average nationwide cost of a three-day hospital stay is $30,000, she said. The cost of an average visit to emergency rooms across the country is more than $2,000, Brosius said.
An online health exchange allows people to compare affordable insurance products based on their needs and family income, Sherard said.
State set for the 2-1-1
The new phone service should help citizens in seven Wyoming counties, including Laramie County, access non-emergency information.
By Josh Rhoten firstname.lastname@example.org CHEYENNE -- The 2-1-1 phone service will begin Tuesday in Wyoming. It's a free information and referral service that helps residents get to the aid and information they need fast simply by dialing those three numbers. By dialing the number from a landline, users are connected with operators who gain basic information from the callers. From there the operators help callers get in touch with services they need for items like employment support, family services and human needs resources such as food banks and shelters. "Essentially it is an easy to remember phone number that is free of charge and can help with a wide range of things, from people who may have trouble paying their electric bill to where to go or how to qualify for health care and social services," said Monique Ruby, Wyoming 2-1-1 manager. "We will eventually cover the whole state, but right now we are starting with seven counties (Laramie, Goshen, Platte, Albany, Carbon, Converse and Niobrara) and working our way out from there." She said by January 2012, 50 percent of the state will be covered with the rest coming in 2013. Wyoming will become the 48th state to operate a 2-1-1 phone service in what is a growing national drive to make access to services easier. Currently 82 percent of the U.S. population is covered under the 2-1-1 service and more than 16 million calls were answered by the service in 2009. The 2-1-1 service will be operated out of offices in Cheyenne. "Our staff is two specialists and I for now, and as we get bigger we will add more people and have it open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But for now it is just going to be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.," Ruby said. Ruby added all calls the service handles will be confidential. Having the 2-1-1 service will also limit the number of non-emergency calls the 911 receives on a regular basis. Cindy Pomeroy, project manager for 2-1-1, said that alone will make the service very valuable in Wyoming. "A study was conducted to see if there was a need for this service in Wyoming and showed there were literally thousands of calls a year to emergency services numbers that were for just information," Pomeroy said. "It also showed a service like 2-1-1 will help organizations like Red Cross and the Salvation Army organize volunteers in an emergency situation by organizing meet points or directing people to donation drop off locations." Funding for the service comes from grants and other programs like The United Way of Laramie County, Laramie County Community Partnership and the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to name a few. Dr. Phyllis Sherard, with the CRMC, said the service will help the hospital by providing information about services to residents before problems turn into crisis. "By providing callers with vital information upfront, we reduce costs for additional services in the future. Investing and assisting with partnerships like Wyoming 2-1-1 is essential if we are successfully to address the increasing costs of healthcare services in our community," Sherard said. Wyoming Department of Family Services Director Tony Lewis said the program will help those who don't know where to turn for services. "People often don't know where to turn and sometimes go without those necessary and readily available services. Wyoming 2-1-1 will fill a huge gap in our state's health and human services system," Lewis said. A small dedication with Cheyenne Mayor Rick Kaysen making the first phone call will be held Tuesday morning. If you are trying to access the service from your cell phone, call 888-425-7138. For more information on the program or to get help when operators are not available, visit their website at wyoming211.org.
New Wyoming 2-1-1 Staff Changes
December 2011 - The Wyoming 2-1-1 Board of Director's announced the hiring of two new staff members. Linda Reynolds became the Executive Director of Wyoming 2-1-1 and Gina Rowland is the newest Information and Referral Specialist.
Wyoming 2-1-1 Debuts in Southwest Wyoming
Beginning February 1, Wyoming 2-1-1 will be available to residents in Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater and Uinta County. A recent partnership and the support of United Way of Southwest Wyoming has enable Wyoming 2-1-1 to expand ahead of schedule. Wyoming 2-1-1 began serving Laramie, Goshen, Platte, Albany, Carbon, Converse and Niobrara counties in February 2011, and has begun expanding into the northeast (Natrona, Johnson, Campbell, Crook, Sheridan and Weston. Community agencies, programs and services that would like to be added into the Wyoming 2-1-1 database need to fill out the necessary forms and submit them to Wyoming 2-1-1. These can be found on our website under "Add Agency." Or call 2-1-1.
Natrona County Launch
On March 27, 2012 Wyoming 2-1-1, Inc. and Natrona County United Way announced expansion of 2-1-1 services in Natrona County. This expansion was due to the financial support provided by the McMurry Foundation and United Way of Natrona County.