Pen, paper trumps online for state exchange

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Frustrated with healthcare.gov, advocates are putting pen to paper to help people access health insurance.

“It seems to be the fastest way,” with the federal health insurance exchange website still so glitchy, said Melissa Kuykendall, Access Family Health’s certified enrollment counselor in Tupelo.

The applications are the first step, helping individuals and families determine what tax credit subsidies they qualify for.

According to data the Mississippi Department of Insurance has received from the federal exchange, between 120 and 140 Mississippians have filled out applications through the online system.

The low number reflects the technical glitches, not the level of interest or the need for health insurance among Mississippians, said Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program.

“There are thousands in the pipeline,” as people resort to paper applications, Mitchell said. “You can’t deny the need in Mississippi.”

The health advocacy program’s Health Help offices around the state all will have certified navigators in place today, in partnership with the Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church, which is one of the two Mississippi organizations that receive a grant to help provide navigators, Mitchell said.

The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program also is working with its partners to add another dozen trained navigators around the state over the next few weeks.

As the applications for subsidies are processed, advocates say they are increasingly concerned about those who will fall into the coverage gap.

About 137,800 low-income Mississippians are uninsured, but fall between the eligibility for Medicaid and 100 percent of the federal poverty level where subsidies kick in. For a family of three, the coverage gap would cover those earning more than $5,600 but less than $19,530.

The gap was created when Mississippi and 25 other states opted out of the expansion of Medicaid allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Mitchell’s office has seen more than a few people who were hoping to be eligible for subsidies so they could access insurance, but then realized they make too little to get assistance.

“They’re very angry,” Mitchell said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

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Resources

Healthcare.gov

• Access Family Health Outreach (662) 844-4252 or enroll@accessfamilyhealth.com

• Health Help – Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (877) 314-3843