Healthy Community Alliance Is Here For You

By Jann Wiswall

If you’re a Cattaraugus County resident and are having difficulty enrolling for health insurance through New York’s insurance exchange — New York State of Health (NYSH) — you’re in luck. With a grant from the state, Healthy Community Alliance (HCA) in Gowanda is running an invaluable countywide “facilitated enrollment” program that is free to use and can be accessed near to where you live.

HCA offers in-person help using highly trained navigators who are familiar with every inch of the NYSH Web site and its process. Navigators will sit down with you at one of 31 sites around the county to walk you through the process, explain anything you don’t understand, find the best plan that meets your unique needs and identify any tax credits or discounts to which you may be entitled. They’re also available by phone.

Traci Hopkins, who runs the grant program and supervises the navigators for HCA, says that the NY State of Health site has been running reasonably well since its debut. While there were some glitches early on, most were fixed within a few hours.

Before the rollout, about 2.7 million New Yorkers — about 16 percent of the population — did not have health insurance, according to the Urban Institute. About 1.1 million are expected to buy insurance through the new marketplace by 2016.

As of Dec. 9, more than 314,000 applications have been completed and 100,088 individuals and families have enrolled for coverage beginning Jan. 1, according to the NY State of Health. Those who have applied still need to select a plan and send in their first payment in order to be officially enrolled.

Despite the relative ease of the NY State of Health Web site — it’s one of the two most successful state sites in the nation — many people still are having trouble getting through the process simply because buying health insurance can be confusing.

For those who have never had insurance before — for example, younger individuals who are just aging out of their parents’ plans — the terminology may be unfamiliar, making it difficult to determine what they need.  Navigators can answer one question or many, by phone or in person.

For those who are uncomfortable with computers, the process can be especially daunting. For this group, navigators can fill out the online application for them, or they will help them complete paper applications.

Even those who are comfortable with computers and online shopping may find themselves stuck at some point in the process.

“We can pick up where they left off,” said Hopkins, and complete an application at any stage.

Across the board, Hopkins points out, each and every family situation is different. A family with two, six or no children all will have different options, and some of those families will qualify for discounts while others will not.

“Our navigators have worked through many of these variables, and they’ll be able to help you determine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, a qualified health plan, Child Health Plus or tax credits,” she said.

Hopkins notes that if you want to be covered starting Jan. 1, you must have your application completed and submitted by Dec. 23. However, Open Enrollment for all New Yorkers continues through March 31. Anyone who gets their completed application in by the 15th of January, February or March will be covered by the first of the following month. If you wait until the last day of open enrollment to apply, your coverage will begin May 1, 2014.

The next open enrollment is scheduled to be held from October through December of 2014.

To schedule an appointment with a navigator or to learn more, call the Healthy Community Alliance at (716) 532-1010 or e-mail