Island County navigators assist with health exchange

Navigating the murky waters of the Washington Health Exchange can be tricky, but there are resources out there.

“I’ve been speaking for days,” said Lisa Clark, Opportunity Council Island County Service Center director.

Informational meetings are being held up and down the island with new ones getting booked all the time. State certified health exchange navigators are traveling around the county to answer questions, and help people use the system.

Thirty people attended an informational meeting on Wednesday at Oak Harbor Library.

The Opportunity Council received the contract navigation contract from the Washington Health Exchange. The organization is a private nonprofit that serves low-income and homeless families.

To be a navigator in Washington, Clark said everyone was thoroughly vetted and trained to become certified.

“It’s just short of the blood of your children to be vetted by Washington state,” Clark said.

All state navigators had to have criminal background checks, attend a two-day workshop, participate in webinars, and pass a certification test. The Opportunity Council has four navigators in Island County.

Washington is one of 13 states that setup its own health exchange. The Web site launched Oct. 1 and has only had one incident the entire time of operation.

“We were down three days last week, but that’s because the federal hub was down,” Clark said.

When applying for coverage in the exchange, personal information needs to be verified by the IRS, Clark said.

“Everything is going through the IRS,” Clark said. “It’s a complicated system and there’s a lot to it.”

The enrollment period was extended through March due to problems with the federal system, Clark said. She receives between five and 10 emails a day updating her on ongoing changes to the system.

The navigators have client hours at the office in Oak Harbor and residents can make appointments, Clark said.

“We’re doing everything to accommodate people to get them enrolled,” Clark said.

To help make sure all the information is correct, Clark said when people come in they need to bring 2012 tax returns, any pension or retirement account information, and be able to give a Social Security number, date of birth and the name of employer.

For those who do not have a Social Security number, documentation of citizenship needs to be brought, such as a permanent resident alien card. Passports aren’t recognized in the system because the codes are from other countries, Clark said.

Navigators are prohibited from disclosing any information about those who seek assistance, Clark said.

Some people may be able to qualify for Medicaid under the new expansion, Clark said. Others may qualify for government subsidized plans through the exchange. Because the plan one qualifies for is based on their income and household composition, it’s hard to generalize an average cost for someone, Clark said.

People are able to go into the private marketplace outside the exchange and purchase insurance if they want to, Clark said.

Starting in 2014, individuals who do not have health insurance will have to pay a fine of $295, which increases to $325 in 2015

Clark said the system is confusing, but navigators are available to answer questions and help any way they can.


Help is available

The Opportunity Council’s client hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon. It’s at 1791 Northeast First Avenue in Oak Harbor. To make an appointment, or for more information, call 360-679-6577.


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