White House gives sick Americans more time to select a health plan


LINCOLN — Barely six weeks remain before Americans can start enrolling in health insurance plans offered through marketplaces created by the new federal health law.

Efforts to spread the word and help people enroll are gearing up in Nebraska and Iowa.

Several Nebraska health care and advocacy groups announced Thursday that they were joining forces to let people know about the new coverage options.

The coalition, called Enroll Nebraska, aims to get information and enrollment materials into the hands of community groups.

“Enroll Nebraska will help us make sure that we make the most of this historic opportunity,” said Becky Gould, executive director of Nebraska Appleseed.

Also Thursday, federal officials announced the Nebraska and Iowa groups that will get federal grants to provide navigator services.

Under the new law, navigators are intended to work with people one-on-one, helping them sort through their new insurance choices and navigate the application process in the marketplaces.

Two Nebraska groups — Community Action of Nebraska and the Ponca Tribe — will split $600,000 in awards.

In Iowa, $599,999 will be split by three groups: Genesis Health System, Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Roger Furrer, executive director of Community Action of Nebraska, said the network of community action programs will hire 10 new employees and train a total of 62 employees as navigators.

They will be available at community action offices across the state to help people understand the new health insurance marketplace and get enrolled.

“There's a lot of people out there that are very unsure about the Affordable Care Act,” including how it could benefit them, Furrer said.

The health insurance marketplaces, also called insurance exchanges, form the centerpiece of the federal health care overhaul.

They are to be one-stop shops where individuals and small businesses can compare and buy health insurance offered by private insurers. Government subsidies to help people afford coverage also will be available.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the navigators are among many resources that will be available for people trying to figure out the new marketplaces.

Traditional insurance agents and brokers are another source of information.

Last month, community health centers across the country received federal grants to hire application counselors. The 14 Iowa centers got nearly $1.5 million. The six centers in Nebraska received more than $678,000.

Nancy Thompson, CEO of the Health Center Association of Nebraska, said the counselors would work with uninsured patients to help them get enrolled in the new coverage options.

More than 30,000 people who get care at the community health centers have no insurance, she said.

Some may not be able to buy coverage through the insurance marketplaces, however, because they do not make enough money.

The health care law does not provide subsidies for people making less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

The law originally envisioned that those people would be covered by a state-by-state expansion of the Medicaid system to more low-income adults. But the U.S. Supreme Court made the expansion voluntary, and Nebraska is not among the states that are participating.

Other resources available for people wanting to learn more about the new law is the website HealthCare.gov. People also can call 800-318-2596, which is available 24 hours a day to answer questions in 150 languages.

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