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Last updated: October 12. 2013 10:24AM - 552 Views
Kevin Boozer Staff writer



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WINNSBORO — Fairfield County residents who are unsure about shopping the insurance health exchanges provided by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, have an ally in the staff at Fairfield Memorial Hospital.


Last week the hospital was approved as a a Certified Application Counselor Designated Organization. There are two levels of staff that assist patients with questions about purchasing insurance, the CAC Counselors and the Navigators.


FMH Social Worker Denise Blackwell said the counselors and navigators are educators of the public about how the health exchanges work, who is eligible for benefits, who needs to purchase health insurance and resources to refer the public toward resources such as financial counselors who can help clients find a way to budget their money so they can pay for insurance premiums.


People have from Oct. 1 until March 1, 2014, to get a policy in place.


“The big goal is to get people educated. They can feel free to call us and ask as many questions as they want about the health exchanges,” Blackwell said.


Blackwell said that people input their income information into the website www.healthcare.gov and then the exchange tells them what insurance options they are eligible for. FMH staff are aware that many people in the county are not computer literate or do not have ready access to the Internet, she said.


That’s why FMH will have an outreach coordinator on staff to go out into the community to people’s homes either with paper applications or with a laptop if there is Internet available.


FMH has a staff position of outreach coordinator/navigator to help patients as well.


To avoid purchasing the insurance is to place one’s self and one’s family at increased risk, according to FMH CEO Mike Williams.


If a catastrophic injury or accident happens to someone without any insurance who opted instead to pay a fee of one percent of one’s income instead, then collection agencies would be able to place liens on property and assets until, for example, a $250,000 for a massive trauma were paid in full.


Williams said that universal health care benefits the country as a whole. Benefits for FMH and the surrounding community from the Affordable Care Act should include increased wellness programming participation and an increase in preventative care.


Williams said that often patients would wait until they reached 65 and qualified for Medicare before they had chronic conditions such as diabetes checked. That waiting contributed to organ damage and related issues in diabetics that may have been minimized, or avoided, had they taken proactive care years sooner.


Finding the insurance to meet one’s budget is the key to this and people have until Williams also pointed out that parents need to be aware that if they earn low incomes their children may be eligible for Medicaid but the parents may need to purchase insurance from the exchange.


Staff are still being trained to assist community members and once the training is complete, Williams said for people to look for community workshops to help educate about health insurance as well.


He said that soon FMH will have a nurse who is a clinical outreach coordinator who will be tasked with helping ensure people are up to speed on Obamacare’s insurance issues. Employees in the business office and in the insurance office also will be certified so they can guide people to the proper resources, a process happening right now.


Blackwell recommended people allow thirty minutes to an hour for face-to-face counseling sessions.


These FMH efforts are part of a partnership with the Eau Claire Cooperative Ministries, the Office of Rural Health, The Benefit Bank, and S.C. Hospital Association, the CMS center for Medicaid and Medicare and many other agencies and organizations.


Williams said that FMH soon will be listed on marketplace.cms.gov as a resource to provide help to consumers looking to purchase insurance from the marketplace.


People can call 635-0209 for the Clinical Outreach Coordinator or call 635-0206 for social services office and Blackwell to learn more.


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