Last updated: December 08. 2013 4:26PM - 520 Views
Kevin Boozer Staff Writer

Kevin Boozer | The Herald IndependentFairfield Community Health Partners President Kim Austin welcomes participants, patient advocates, and medical professionals to the forum.
Kevin Boozer | The Herald IndependentFairfield Community Health Partners President Kim Austin welcomes participants, patient advocates, and medical professionals to the forum.
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Kevin Boozer

Staff Writer

WINNSBORO — People needing insurance to comply with the Affordable Care Act were granted a one week extension. The new deadline is Dec. 23, the last day someone can buy insurance in federally operated marketplaces and be covered on Jan. 1, 2014.

With that deadline in mind, the Fairfield Community Health Partners held a forum Tuesday night in the Fairfield Central High School Media Center to provide information about the Affordable Care Act and marketplace related health insurance purchases.

Vernon Kennedy, executive director of the Fairfield County Behavioral Health Services, said the health partners group designed the forum for people shopping for insurance, not for business-related issues and ACA that other area forums have addressed.

“A lot of people can qualify for Medicaid but are not aware of it,” Kennedy said.

The forum provided individuals the opportunity to get help in determining what assistance they may qualify for, if any. If participants were unsure about Medicaid, they saw two representatives from the Benefit Bank of South Carolina. If not, then they received help in setting up an account at healthcare.gov, the site of the federal health exchange.

At FCHS, the participants were divided into groups so they could receive case-by-case assistance. Insurance brokers, Affordable Care Act navigators and nurse navigators helped people learn more about their individual circumstances as related to the Affordable Care Act.

Benefit bank and healthcare exchange

He encouraged people to consult the Benefit Bank of South Carolina on a case-by-case basis to find out if there was assistance available.

The Benefit Bank of South Carolina is not a lending institution but it is a one-stop location where people can receive information about a variety of programs including Medicaid (including the Children’s Health Insurance Program), Low Income Subsidy (prescription drug assistance), state and federal taxes (refunds returned within 10 days or less), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, free application for Federal Student Aid, voter registration, and Lifeline (assistance with home phones).

Two Benefit Bank sites open to the public in Fairfield County are at Fairfield Memorial Hospital, 102 U.S. 321 Bypass North in Winnsboro, and the Chameleon Inspiration Learning Center, 63 Cedar Terrace in Winnsboro. Appointments are needed to receive the benefit bank assistance.

FMH can be reached at 803-635-0206. The Chameleon Inspiration Learning Center is open to the public and offers benefit bank benefits as well as help with voter registration. Assistance is by appointment only.

To schedule an appointment, call 803-815-0833. Two other sites not open to the public but that offer Benefit Bank benefits are the Fairfield County Council on Aging, 210 E. Washington St. in Winnsboro, and The John A. Martin Primary Health Care Center, 56 U.S. 321 Bypass North in Winnsboro. Benefit Bank sessions are by appointment only.

Kim Austin, chair of the Fairfield Community Health Partners, said helping people determine if they can receive Medicaid is an important function of the partnership’s addressing concerns related to health care in Fairfield County.

Resource: Fairfield Memorial Hospital

Fairfield Memorial Hospital hosts a health insurance marketplace under the leadership of Clinical Outreach Coordinator Harvey Beach. Beach and FMH president Mike Williams were on hand at the forum along with other staff including registered dietitian Mac Russell.

Russell said there are at least five people from FMH who received benefit training and there were slots for five more people to attend the training held at the Diabetes Education Center at FMH.

Beach mentioned benefits of the Affordable Care Act, such as the increased reach it gives Medicare and the opportunity for more individuals to receive health care coverage. He said health insurance premiums roughly doubled over the last decade and that was one factor leading to the Affordable Care Act.

Beach said about 170,000 people in South Carolina are eligible for Medicaid. If eligible for Medicaid, the people still need to use the health care marketplace, with the assistance of the Benefit Bank of South Carolina; and FMH can help with both areas.

Beach said the majority of Fairfield County residents can take advantage of subsidies to help with health care under the Affordable Care Act. A family of four with a household income of $28,000 a year could have a health care policy for about $60 per month. The rates and policies vary for individuals.

Other facts to keep in mind include:

• The open enrollment period at the health care exchange ends March 31, 2014.

• People can apply for Medicaid and CHIP at any time.

• People currently covered by Medicare are not required to shop the government health exchange at www.healthcare.gov.

• Medicare patients cannot use the exchange to buy supplemental insurance or dental coverage.

If people choose not to purchase insurance, there is an individual mandate penalty. In 2014 the penalty would be $95 for an adult and $47.50 per child with a maximum cost of $285 per family or 1 percent of one’s annual income, whichever is greater. The penalty is paid when one’s taxes are filed. Penalties are prorated and there is no penalty for a single gap in coverage of less than three months.

Beach said he and his staff would be happy to come out to church groups, civic groups and other organizations to give classes on heart disease, diabetes management and stroke prevention and on the Affordable Care Act. He asked those in attendance to help area residents understand the role FMH has in helping them navigate insurance options and the Affordable Care Act.

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