Saturday, February 17, 2018
Health

Need health insurance? There's help available

This is an election year, so it should come as no surprise that politicians in search of votes are saying all kinds of things without much regard for accuracy.

Take, for instance, the dire warnings that Obamacare — the health insurance program for people under age 65 — is bad for Medicare, the program for seniors and the disabled.

When Gov. Rick Scott aired an ad claiming there would be a "devastating impact'' on seniors from some cuts to private Medicare Advantage plans, he earned a "Mostly False'' rating from PolitiFact.

Scott isn't the only one tossing this distressing myth around, and I'm sure we'll hear variations for a long time to come.

That's why it was so refreshing to meet Marie Cunha.

Marie has been helping people figure out their best Medicare choices for 11 years, first as a social worker in Connecticut, and now as a volunteer in Florida. We met at the St. Petersburg offices of SHINE — Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders — during a meeting honoring volunteers for the great work they do helping consumers with their Medicare questions.

Marie stopped me on my way out to talk about Obamacare.

Not to complain, but to urge me to let Times readers know they have until March 31 to enroll in what's more properly known as the Health Insurance Marketplace and get coverage this year.

Just as SHINE offers Medicare beneficiaries real help from real people, the Affordable Care Act also provides ways to get assistance online, over the phone, or in person. I promised Marie I would repeat the information in this space, so here it is:

• Log onto healthcare.gov, and scroll down to the box that says "Find local help.'' Click there, and you will be taken to a screen where you can fill in your ZIP code and get a list of local resources. Some of them are places you may already know, including many area hospitals, health clinics and government offices.

• If you don't use the Internet, call the Health Insurance Marketplace toll-free at 1-800-318-2596 and tell them what you need. Or ask a friend or a public librarian to help you with the website.

• You also can go to an independent insurance agent — one who works with all insurers — for help finding a plan that's right for you.

Marie, who in addition to being a Medicare advocate also is a beneficiary, does hear from people who worry that Obamacare will harm Medicare. She explains that the programs are separate and that the ACA is improving Medicare by closing the dreaded "doughnut hole'' in Part D prescription drug coverage, adding preventive care benefits, and increasing the focus on improving care quality and decreasing waste.

Why do so many people get the wrong impression, I asked her.

"I think people are listening to TV sound bites and not reading the actual facts,'' she said.

It appears that many of us aren't well-informed on insurance. Most Americans said they don't understand basic insurance terms like "premium," "copayment" and "deductible,'' according to a recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Another RWJF report finds that almost 6 in 10 uninsured adults still don't know that financial help is available to help many people afford Marketplace insurance.

Rather than pitting the generations against each other, it might be more productive to consider what many Americans of all ages have in common when it comes to health insurance: a serious lack of solid information.

Nobody much enjoys that gut-churning, brain-scrambling, I'd-rather-scour-the-grout-with-a-toothbrush feeling that insurance can inspire. There is real help available. It's up to all of us to seek it out instead of grabbing for an easy sound bite.

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