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Navigators available to help with federal health insurance enrollment

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

It's open enrollment time for federal health insurance programs. Seniors on Medicare have now until December 7th to decide if they want to keep their existing plan or add extra benefits like Medicare Advantage. Family practitioner Aaron Wilson, part of the American Health Network in Fredericktown, says seniors should first assess their medical needs:

I think a great place to start is with your family doctor, taking a look at all of those questions - how often do you visit the doctor, what perscription medications do normally take, what specialists do you have and where are those specialists located? I think of all those are important things to keep in mind. Second, would be exploring your choices. Do you need coverage that provides things like dental, vision and hearing? And finally, once you've identified your needs and explored your choices, it's time to choose your option."

Free help with those decisions is available online from Medicare.gov, or calling 1-800 MEDICARE. Help is also available from the Ohio Department of insurance, and the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program, or OSHIIP

Open enrollment for insurance in the federal marketplace through the Affordable Care Act runs until December 15th, for coverage beginning January 1rst, with a deadline for delayed coverage at the end of the year. Nearly 260-thousand Ohioans got coverage for 2022, a 24-percent increase over the previous year. Dozens of health navigators are available to help people through the process. Steve Wagner of the Universal Health Care Action Network says the services are free, funded by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"We're unbiased, so we're not promoting any particular insurers product And we can help people both with getting financial assistance to help them afford their insurance, as well as help them find a plan that best fits their needs. "

Congress has extended subsidies for health insurance premiums, capping costs at 8 and a half percent of customers' household income.

Wagner says the Affordable Care Act can help people afford premiums with Advanced Premium Tax Credits that can be used to help pay or offset those premiums. And people making 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level may qualify for called Cost Sharing Assistance, which can lower copays or upfront costs.

And Wagner says new rules this year have also resolved the so-called "family glitch", which used only the cost of insurance for an individual to determine affordability.

"Your employer might offer health coverage, but it's unaffordable for the family. That's all been removed, so if it's unaffordable on an individual level or a family basis, you can go to the marketplace and get coverage there, and get help"

The government has earmarked an additional $99 million for health navigators this year. In Ohio, people can meet with a navigator in-person, online or by phone. More information is available at GetCovered. org, or by calling 833-628-4467.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.