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WVU assisting residents with health insurance plan questions

WVUToday Press Release:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Four West Virginia Healthy Start navigators, working in communities across the northern half of West Virginia, are helping people sign up for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Although the recent election has raised questions about the future of the healthcare law, nothing has changed, according to Penny Womeldorff, who directs the WV Healthy Start Navigator Project.

Open enrollment for next year began Nov. 1 and will end on January 31, 2017. To have a plan in place on Jan. 1, enrollees must be signed up by Dec. 15.

“Some consumers may be worried about making an insurance purchase on the exchange, given the recent discussions about repealing the Affordable Care Act. However, this shouldn’t dissuade people from enrolling in their health plans,” said Valarie Blake, an associate professor of law at West Virginia University specializing in health care. “It’s unclear when or if a repeal will happen. But if it does and consumers lose access to subsidies or tax credits, the premiums are paid on a monthly basis. So consumers will be free to simply stop paying their premiums. They won’t be on the hook for further monthly bills.”

The four navigators, based in Morgantown, Elkins, Wheeling and Martinsburg, are trained specialists who provide consumers in their communities with in-person help, answering their questions about health insurance and financial assistance options and assisting them as they complete applications for health coverage. They travel the region to serve people in 29 counties, including both West Virginia panhandles and the North Central region of the state.

Navigators are knowledgeable about the range of health plans available on as well as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. WVU operates the program under a cooperative agreement with the Federal government.

There has been a renewed interest in health insurance sign-ups since the election, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that more than 100,000 people signed up for 2017 plans on a single day, Nov. 9.

Kelly Allen, navigator based at the Monongalia County Health Department, works directly with people who are signing up for insurance. “More than 70 percent of people in West Virginia qualify for a plan that can cost less than $75 a month,” she said. “They are often surprised at the choices that are available.”

She provides these tips to people who seek assistance:

  • New plans and prices are available for 2017. 31 counties across West Virginia will have plan choices from two companies: Highmark West Virginia and Caresource. Even if you’ve shopped before, it’s a good idea to look at the new options available for 2017.
  • Most West Virginians qualify for financial help, and 70% will be able to find a plan for less than $75 per month. Additionally, 85% of all West Virginians qualify for tax credits, which are used to lower the cost of monthly premiums. These tax credits increase along with premiums, and they protect the majority of consumers from rate increases, including those that have been in the news recently.
  • Talk with a free, local in-person assister if you are uninsured. Health insurance prices on the Marketplace are very personalized for each family: they take into account family size, household income, geographic location, and ages of those applying for coverage. Because of this, prices can vary widely from family to family. Consult with an in-person assister to determine if health coverage will truly be affordable for your family.
  • If you already have Marketplace coverage, it is recommended that you actively renew your plan for 2017. More than seven in 10 Marketplace consumers could save an average of $682 in annual premiums next year if they came back to shop for another plan within their current metal level. Even if you want to keep your current plan, it’s important to actively renew your application. As health insurance premiums increase, so does your financial help (to ensure that you are still paying an affordable percentage of your household income towards health coverage). This is why the premiums on your renewal letters may look higher than expected- you must actively update your application for your updated tax credits to be applied. Reach out to in-person assisters for help to ensure that you are receiving the correct amount of financial help.
  • Health coverage offers many benefits. The Affordable Care Act requires that health plans cover preventive services with no cost to the consumer. This means annual well visits, flu shots, screening mammograms and colonoscopies, and cholesterol and blood pressure screenings are covered free of charge (no copays, deductibles, or out-of-pocket costs). Additionally, those with pre-existing conditions can no longer be discriminated against or charged more for coverage.

To contact a WV Health Start Navigator, please call one of these local offices:

  • Kelly Allen Phone: 304.598.5150; [email protected] (Serving Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Ritchie, and Taylor counties)
  • Carol Bush Phone: 304.630.6225 or 304.614.6848; [email protected] (Serving Barbour, Lewis, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker, and Upshur counties)
  • Jim Adams Phone: 304.218.289; [email protected] (Serving Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Ohio, Pleasants, Tyler, Wetzel, and Wood counties)
  • Brittany Watts Phone: 304.851.6737; [email protected] (Serving Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Mineral, and Morgan counties)



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