The federal governments Health Insurance Marketplace website is a good place to find information.
National media sources reported a huge surge in interest when the federal Health Insurance Marketplace opened Oct. 1. But, the same wasn’t true at Pinellas County Health and Community Services.
Natalie D. Jackson, program administrator, at the county’s H&CS, said Oct. 3 that only about 20 to 25 calls had come in from people asking about the marketplace.
“As of yesterday, we’ve had seven people come in,” she said.
She wasn’t concerned about the low numbers since the agency is still working to get its Navigator program up and running. Pinellas County received a $600,000 grant from the federal government to fund the hiring and support of navigators, who will assist residents with the new health insurance exchange.
Jackson said all navigators hired by H&CS had not yet completed the certification process required to do their jobs. She said the shutdown of the federal government had reduced the number of project officers available to certify navigators. Still, she is confident that everyone will be certified and the county’s program would be up and running by the target date of Oct. 14.
Oct. 1 marked the beginning of the period when people could begin exploring the program to find out about the different plans and their eligibility for tax relief.
“This is the time to understand what it is and whether it is beneficial to you,” Jackson said. “It’s a time to pick your plan, do your research to make sure the plan meets your needs.”
Open enrollment continues until March 31, 2014, so there is no rush to get signed up right away, she said. People who have health insurance through their employer don’t have to worry about a penalty come tax time. People without insurance, however, should be looking into the new program to learn what they need to do.
She recommends visiting https://www.healthcare.gov, which has information on many health insurance topics and provides specific plans and prices per state. Health insurance coverage can start as soon as Jan. 1, 2014. County residents also can call 464-8411 to set up an appointment with a counselor.
Maggie Hall, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, said due to a state edict, the health department is not allowed to participate in the navigator program. Instead, the agency is directing people who come in to their clinics to the county.
Scammers geared up and ready
While the government continues to fine tune and ready programs to respond to people interested in the health insurance marketplace, scam artists are already on the prowl.
“There are three aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act that make it easy for scams to thrive,” said a press release from Pinellas County Communications. “First, the law affects nearly every American in some way, so consumers across the U.S. are vulnerable to getting scammed. Second, the act is not standardized nationwide, allowing each state to administer the law in different ways. Third, the complexity of the law leaves consumers confused.”
The county’s Department of Justice and Consumer Services offers some tips to help protect against becoming a victim.
Most important is to protect personal information. Individuals should never give out information such as credit card, bank account or social security numbers over the phone, by email or in person outside an official government office, especially when unsolicited. When meeting in person, ask to see the representative’s credentials.
Government agencies usually communicate via the United States Postal Service and their employees would never ask for personal information over the phone or by email. Be aware that scammers can spoof caller IDs and display fake names and phone numbers.
Lastly, remember there is no rush to get signed up for health insurance right away. Anyone who phones or emails and pressures you into an immediate decision is likely a scammer. The best advice is to hang up the phone and don’t answer the email. If you think you’re a victim of a scam, call Justice and Consumer Services at 464-6200 or visit www.pinellascounty.org/consumer.
Revised to change Health and Human Services with the department's new name, Health and Community Services.