Need help signing up for insurance? Counselors bracing for open enrollment

    Round two of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act starts Saturday. At least one survey found that people are much more likely to complete the process if they get in-person assistance.

    So, will enough help be available this time around?

    Marieke Beck-Coon, an application counselor with Resources for Human Development in southwestern Pennsylvania, recalls being swamped during the first enrollment period, as people sought help with their applications. In the end, about 318,000 Pennsylvanians signed up for health coverage.

    So, what is she nervous about this year?

    “Volume,” she said, laughing. “I’m very worried about enough enrollment assistance to go around.”

    The marketplace website should work a lot better, making enrollment a lot easier, she said. But with 40 plans to choose from in Philly, shoppers may get overwhelmed. On top of that, many will need to renew their coverage, and many more will be newly eligible for Medicaid in the state.

    Neil Deegan, head of Enroll America in Pennsylvania, said outreach groups are trying to coordinate more closely this time around.

    “I think we have a great level of resources this year,” he said. “I think we can always have more.”

    As a state with a federally run marketplace, Pennsylvania receives a fixed, limited amount of federal funds to support that assistance. It’s about $2.4 million for the 2014-2015 enrollment year. But Deegan and others have been recruiting volunteer counselors to augment the paid navigators.

    They also just launched a web tool and hotline to make it easier for people to actually find that in-person help in this region.

    Beck-Coon said she hopes all of this will mean fewer confused people this year, flooding her office at the last minute, seeking out help.

    Open enrollment, by the way, ends Feb. 15.

    In Philadelphia, Public Health Management Corporation is overseeing a local assistance hotline (1-855-486-9331) and a soon-to-be-localized website (http://connector.getcoveredamerica.org/), where people can find in-person assistance and, depending on the agency, even book an appointment online.

    Pennsylvania Health Access Network is overseeing a statewide helpline (1-877-570-3642).

    People in New Jersey can go to www.covernj.org to find help.

    The federally designated navigator groups in Pennsylvania this year are the Association of Community Health Centers; Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association; National Healthy Start Association; Penn Asian Senior Services; Young Women’s Christian Association of Pittsburgh; and the Consumer Health Coalition.

    The federally designated navigator groups in New Jersey this year are the Center for Family Services, Inc.; Wendy Sykes – Orange ACA Navigator Project; Community Health Law Project; and The Family Resource Network. 

    The federally designated navigator groups in Delaware this year are Chatman, LLC, and Westside Family Healthcare.

    Disclosure: Public Health Management Corporation funds health reporting at WHYY.

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