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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Health insurance navigators help Missourians in final days of enrollment period

Marissanne Lewis-Thompson

With the March 31 enrollment deadline for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act drawing near, healthcare centers across the state have been ramping up efforts to get Missourians signed-up. The group Cover Missouriorganized a number of enrollment events across the state earlier this month.

Layla Earl is a licensed navigator in Rolla, Mo. Her role as a navigator is to not only assist people in signing up, but also to take what my appear to be a complex process and guide her clients through it step by step. Earl said although those signing up for health insurance have the ability to look at other marketplaces, they can only purchase insurance from their state.

“You always have to select a state and that’s because each state marketplace is territorial,” Earl said. “So, if you’re in Missouri you have to be a resident of Missouri in order to shop the marketplace. So, you can go look at Tennessee, but you aren’t going to be able to buy it.”

Like all other marketplaces set up by the federal government, women who are pregnant can also enroll in the children’s health insurance plan—or CHIP. In return, this person would be eligible for premium tax credits.

“Missouri marketplace has a really wonderful feature to it,” she said. “You can enroll not only for the marketplace but you can also enroll with one application for Medicaid or CHIP.”

In Missouri, there are four basic plan options for clients to choose from - the catastrophic, bronze, silver and gold. Although the insurance plans are the same, there are different outcomes for each client. Not everyone qualifies for health insurance because of what is called the “Medicaid gap.” People fall into that gap when they don’t qualify for Medicaid but aren’t eligible for tax credits because of their income. But someone like Earl can help these people file for an exemption so that they don’t pay the penalty for not signing up.

Earl said that it is important for Missourians to consider purchasing health insurance before they fall ill.

“What I have found in my experience is health insurance is emotional,” she said. “So when you are at your sickest or most stressed it’s probably the worst time to figure out how does my insurance work? So by making people do this now, and see how the plan works, what my costs are going to be upfront, when I need to use it.”

Although, signing up for insurance may appear to be a daunting task, the guidance of a navigator can make the process a little bit easier. 

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