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Medical Center offers free assistance in health insurance enrollment

Posted on November 6, 2017

For those who need help comparing plans or filling out applications for health insurance, the Medical Center of South Arkansas is offering free assistance.

The assistance is offered during the period of open enrollment, which goes on through Dec. 15. Appointments may be made with the hospital’s certified assisters by calling 870-864-2012 or 870-864-4185. The marketplace for health insurance was created as part of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010. More than 12.2 million people enrolled in marketplace plans for 2017.

News of several large insurers either reducing their participation in the marketplace or exiting it altogether, has spurred concern about rising premiums and higher deductibles.

“There are always questions concerning changes to premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits before open enrollment launches each year,” said Scott Street, CEO of MCSA. “This will always be the case as insurers enter and exit different markets. But what is consistent, yearto-year, is the value of the marketplace. Millions of people are able to sign up for insurance who otherwise wouldn’t have access to care, or who would face a financial crisis due to medical bills.”

To help make health insurance affordable, the government uses household income to determine who is eligible for financial assistance. Aid might include advanced tax credits to help pay for premiums or discounts on co-pays and deductibles. As in past years, a majority of enrollees are expected to qualify for some type of financial support in 2018. Individuals who are re-enrolling on the marketplace are encouraged to re-evaluate and compare plans, as the lowest-cost option can change from year to year.

“I think this is where our certified assisters add so much value,” Street said. “They know how to explain the pros and cons of each option, and they carefully screen each person to make sure any subsidies toward premiums, or any discounts available for deductibles or co-pays, are accessed.”

All health plans on the marketplace must offer a comprehensive set of benefits, and coverage cannot be denied for individuals with a pre-existing health condition. Some of the health benefits include free preventive care and wellness services; doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospital and emergency department care, lab services, pediatric services, and mental and behavioral health treatment.

Individuals who are eligible for health insurance who do not purchase coverage not only pay a penalty when filing their tax return, but they also forfeit financial help with health care expenses throughout the year. The penalty is either 2.5 percent of family income or a predetermined flat rate, whichever is higher.

In an effort to offer health care coverage to more residents, many states, including Arkansas, have expanded Medicaid eligibility so more people can qualify. The certified assisters at MCSA can help people determine if they qualify for Medicaid. Anyone interested, should call 870-864-2012 or 870-864-4185.