Hospital, Library Navigate Healthcare.gov for the Uninsured

Jan 24, 2014

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center is heading a statewide effort called Enroll Wyoming to help people get health insurance through the new online marketplace. The program has trained navigators across the state, including in Jackson where St. John's Medical Center and Teton County Library have teamed up to offer individualized sessions, designed to guide community members through healthcare.gov. Wyoming Public Radio's Rebecca Huntington has more. 

JULIE: I don't have Internet service myself, and so I was concerned about how I'm going to, you know, fill out this Obamacare insurance.

REBECCA HUNTINGTON: Julie, who asked that only her first name be used, signed up for a session after reading about it in the local newspaper.

LIZ DEVINE: And then your password.

HUNTINGTON: She's hunched over a laptop computer with Liz Devine and Trudy Keyworth. They're both financial navigators from St. John's Medical Center. But they're not at the hospital. For the past hour, they've been seated around a table inside a study room at Teton County Library. 

JULIE: Come on little mouse...

DEVINE: There you go...

HUNTINGTON: The hospital and library have teamed up to offer one-hour private sessions several times a week to community members, who want help purchasing insurance. One-in-five people in Teton County do not have insurance… Even though she works full time at a gift shop, Julie says the small business can't afford to cover its employees. She hasn’t had insurance in 13 years.

JULIE: I believe in the preventative measures. I try to avoid doctors, if at all possible because of that. But as you get older, you find out that you do need the doctors a little more.

HUNTINGTON: Now in her 50s and with four grandchildren, Julie says she's finding it harder and harder to avoid going to the doctor.

JULIE: I got two degenerative discs in my lower back, and they want us to do an MRI, and until I get insurance I can't do it.

NAT: keyboard clicking

HUNTINGTON: As Devine and Keyworth walk Julie through healthcare.gov, they hit a roadblock. So they summon Librarian Kurt Plagge, who's next door in the computer lab helping another individual.

PLAGGE: It's not letting you log in because you're still logged in, and what you have to do is click on this "set," and it will take you to the questions.

DEVINE: Oh very good. Very good.

JULIE: And that's why we needed Kurt here.... It's nerve-wracking. I would like to be done with this.

HUNTONGTON: Plagge says that for situations like this, navigators work in teams…

PLAGGE: We each have different experiences, and we've seen different things. And so when we run into something we don't understand we can bounce questions off each other.

HUNTINGTON: Plagge went through many hours of training, including shadowing state navigators, before offering sessions at the library. So far, the partnership between the hospital and library has served more than 60 people. The library and hospital navigators have seen a range of reactions to what healthcare.gov has to offer. Some people are elated…but others, like Julie, are disappointed.

JULIE: Well if it's saying $210 bucks there's no way. I can tell you that right now just with my household expense, you know just basic living.

HUNTINGTON: Plagge changes the settings to include other plans…

PLAGGE: So this one is showing a monthly premium of $99.83 for a bronze plan through WINhealth.

HUNTINGTON: But based on the plan's deductible and co-pay, Julie could end up paying more than six thousand dollars out of pocket if she has to have surgery or another expensive procedure. When it comes to making tough financial decisions, navigators are careful not to tell individuals what to do.

PLAGGE: You know we're not allowed to give advice on that.

JULIE: Well, that's a good question.

HUNTINGTON: Instead Plagge and Devine go through Julie's options in detail. They also make an appointment for her the following week. Individuals have until March 31 to purchase health insurance or they'll end up paying a penalty for going without.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.