Help available at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic for navigating insurance options under Affordable Care Act

People are used to shopping around for the best deal when they are buying a winter jacket or a new car. Comparing prices—choosing a brand name or generic—comes naturally at the grocery store. And there are numerous choices and rate options to sort through when buying car insurance. However, in the past, shopping for health insurance was not as easy. In fact, it was often downright impossible. Rachelle Christianson, recently hired to serve as the Outreach and Enrollment Specialist at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, is hopeful that with the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), finding health care coverage will be more affordable. And, she said, it is her job to make it less stressful.

Christianson is one of the thousands of “navigators” funded by the ACA across the country to help people find a health plan that works for them. She is working closely with Suzanne Davies, who has overseen the sliding-scale payment program at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic for years. The women share a small office off the clinic lobby and there, they will meet with people and go through the process of shopping the MNsure health insurance marketplace step by step. The News-Herald visited with them on October 31 to learn more about what they have to offer.

They are both very excited about the new options, especially because Minnesota is one of the 13 states that has set up its own state insurance marketplace.

Christianson and Davies—and few other clinic staffers, as well as employees at North Shore Hospital—have completed MNsure Certification Training to help clients maneuver through the health insurance marketplace process and they can offer helpful hints. Or, they can assist clients in their office at the clinic.

Once an account is set up in MNsure, either at home or at the clinic with assistance, the consumer is able to comparison shop. The website offers a look at four plan types—bronze, silver, gold or platinum—each offering different levels of coverage, different premiums and deductible options.

Christianson likened shopping the marketplace to shopping for airfare. “You look at the options of the bronze plan versus the gold.”

Davies nodded, “You ask yourself—do I want a nonstop First Class flight or not?”

Davies said individuals who qualified for Minnesota Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare will continue to receive that assistance. The sliding scale program will also still be available to help fill possible gaps in coverage. Davies also stressed that anyone 65 and over, covered by Medicare, does not need to do anything. “Medicare was not touched and there was no change to Medicare supplements under the Affordable Care Act,” she said.

What is new, said Davies, is that people with higher incomes could now qualify for tax credits and/or payment assistance when they purchase insurance in the MNsure marketplace. Davies encouraged people to learn more and to enroll in MNsure during the open enrollment period, which started October 1, 2013, and lasts until March 31, 2014. Anyone in any income level is welcome to get assistance from a navigator and the assistance is completely free.

“The Affordable Care Act has some wonderful consumer benefits,” said Davies. “No more preexisting condition restrictions, no price points based on gender.”

Davies acknowledged that some people have concerns about how the Affordable Care Act will work and how it will affect them. She said she believes in the long run, the ACA will simplify health care. “This is our opportunity for everyone to have the health care they need,” she said.

Christianson encouraged people to come visit her to learn more. She said there might be drop-in appointments available, but it would be best to make an appointment. When the appointment is made, clinic staff can let the client know what paperwork they need to bring with them.

To talk to Christianson, call (218) 387-2330 ext. 153 or email rachelle@sawtoothmountainclinic.org. For more information about MNsure or to enroll, visit www.mnsure.org.