Beaufort Memorial Hospital offers Affordable Care Act application help

With so much confusion over the Affordable Care Act, Beaufort Memorial Hospital is stepping up to help uninsured area residents sign up for coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace.

A total of 16 hospital employees have completed training as federally certified application counselors. They will be available three days a week at the Beaufort Memorial Medical & Administrative Center to answer questions and guide individuals through the health insurance exchange’s online application.

Those interested in getting the one-on-one assistance can call 843-522-5585 to set up an appointment. Walk-ins are also welcome. The consultations will take place on the third and fourth floor of the center located at 990 Ribaut Road, Beaufort, across from the main hospital campus.

“We know there are a lot of people concerned about the new health care program,” said BMH Chief Financial Officer Jeff White.”Some may be intimidated by the application process. Others don’t trust the government. And there are those who qualify for Medicaid, but are so accustomed to having nothing, they don’t know they can apply for it.

“Our ultimate goal is to help these people get insurance and the proper care they need.”

Most of the BMH employees trained as certified application counselors work in the hospital’s patient financial services department or patient registration and are familiar with insurance, Medicare and Medicaid programs. Five of the 16 are practice managers at doctors’ offices that are part of Beaufort Memorial Physician Partners.

Under the new Health Insurance Marketplace, or “exchange,” Beaufort and Jasper county residents have the choice of 27 insurance plans offered by three companies. The plans are divided into three levels of coverage based on how much the plan will pay for your health care and what services are covered.

“The counselors are not selling plans,” White said. “They can tell you if your doctor or hospital is a member of a particular plan. They can answer questions and help you get through the application process. But what plan you choose will be up to you.”

BMH did not receive federal grant money to pay for the program. It is absorbing the cost to help reduce the ever-growing number of uninsured patients the nonprofit hospital treats for free annually. In the fiscal year ending September 2012, charity care totaled $22.3 million — up from $15.4 million in 2008.

In addition, the hospital incurs millions of dollars in bad debt — that is, services that go unpaid. Bad debt totaled $21.7 million in 2012 — $8 million more than in 2008.

Beaufort Memorial coordinated the program with AccessHealth Lowcountry, a network of area healthcare providers that serves as a clearinghouse of medical services for low-income uninsured residents in Beaufort and Jasper counties.

Some 32,000 people in the two counties are believed to be uninsured. Most of them will need to purchase insurance by March 31 to avoid paying a tax penalty of $95.

To schedule an appointment with a BMH counselor to learn more about signing up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace, call 843-522-5585.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Affordable Care Act

Q. How can I purchase health insurance on the new online exchange set up through the Affordable Care Act?

A. You will first need to register with the Health Insurance Marketplace. Beaufort Memorial Hospital has certified application counselors ready to help you through the process. The free service is available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Beaufort Memorial Medical & Administrative Center on Ribaut Road across from the main hospital campus.

Q. How do I arrange to speak with a counselor?

A. Call 843-522-5585. Appointments will be scheduled at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wednesdays at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 2:30 p.m.

Q. Will I be able to complete the application at the time of my appointment?

A. Yes, provided healthcare.gov is able to validate your information. The counselor will fill out the application with you. If you can provide all the required information, the application can be submitted immediately.

Q. What kind of information is required to fill out the application?

A. You’ll need to provide personal information about you and your household, including:

• Your social security number or document number for legal immigrants.

• Policy numbers for any current health insurance plans covering members of your household.

• Employer and income information for every member of your household who needs coverage. Such information can be found on pay stubs or W-2 forms, wage and tax statements.

Q. Why do I need to provide my income?

A. Middle-income individuals under age 65, who are not eligible for coverage through their employer, Medicaid or Medicare, may qualify for money-saving federal subsidies to help pay for insurance purchased through the exchange. The subsidies can be used to lower your monthly premium or your annual tax liability. The amount of financial assistance will depend on your income. During the application process, your income information will be electronically submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for verification.

Q. Will I have to wait to find out how much I will receive in tax credit subsidies?

A. Verification of income should be provided by the IRS within minutes, allowing you to know what your insurance will cost.

Q. How many insurance plans are available under the exchange?

A. Beaufort and Jasper residents have the choice of 27 insurance plans offered by three companies. The plans are divided into three levels of coverage — bronze, silver and gold. All of them offer at least a minimum of essential health benefits.

The category you choose will affect the cost of your monthly premium and what portion of the bill you pay for things like hospital visits or prescription medications. It also affects your total out-of-pocket costs — the most money you will have to spend in a year for healthcare.

With a gold plan, you’ll be charged a higher monthly premium, but pay less when you go to the doctor. At the bronze level, you’ll have a lower premium, but you’ll pay a greater share of medical costs.

Bottom line, the lower the premium, the higher the out-of-pocket costs when you need care; the higher the premium, the lower the out-of-pocket costs.

Q. Can I complete the application and purchase insurance immediately?

A. Yes. If you provide all the necessary personal information and your identity and income can be verified, you will be able to select a plan on the spot.

Q. How long should the process take?

A. If you are familiar with the available insurance plans and are ready to select a policy, it should take about 90 minutes to fill out the application and purchase a plan. You can view health plans and sample prices at www.healthcare.gov. Just click on the “See Plans Now” box on the home page.

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