Navigating new health care law

Deborah Hamilton
navigates a website at the Wood County Health District. (Photos: J.D.
Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)

There are more than 12,000 people without health insurance in Wood County, and it’s Deborah Hamilton’s
job to help as many of them as possible sign up before a March 31 deadline.
Posted at the health district four days each week since January, Hamilton helps some of those people
navigate Medicare applications and the healthcare.gov website, which offers discounted plans and
government subsidies based on income. As many as 60 percent end up with a health plan priced at $100 per
month or less, said Brad Clark, navigator project director for the Neighborhood Health Association.
Unexpected illnesses and accidents can wipe out a person’s assets and income, a situation the Affordable
Care Act attempts to address by expanding Medicaid and subsidizing health plans through healthcare.gov,
which is now fully-functional after a rough launch last year.
Medicaid will remain accessible after March 31, but fewer than two weeks remain to sign up on
healthcare.gov before the enrollment window opens and penalties begin to take effect for those without
insurance. When filing 2014 taxes next year, those without insurance who did not sign up will be
assessed the greater of either $95 or 1 percent of their income, fees which will rise in subsequent
years.
Similar to employer-provided plans, healthcare.gov is currently offering open enrollment, but after March
31, signing up will require a qualifying event – a change in income or employment, marital status or
additional dependents.
The Affordable Care Act has been mired in myth and misinformation, something Hamilton aims to clear up.

Detail view of health
care website.

Those who need insurance may have been without it for years and can be confused or intimidated by the
process, Hamilton said. She helps to address misconceptions about the ACA and review details of plans
with clients.
"They may be confused on how the health care sites work, or they may not know if their primary care
physician accepts it," Hamilton said. "That’s one of the reasons why we’re here, is to guide
them through it, to help them with each step."
Hamilton takes appointments and also accepts walk-ins, serving seven clients per day or more.
"The last couple weeks, it’s been extremely busy," and as the deadline approaches, "more
people are coming in to see me," she said.
Clark, who supervises 13 navigators in the region, said as many as 6,000 have signed up since November in
parts of Wood, Lucas, Erie and Sandusky counties. He recalled one client being so grateful for help
signing up that they asked to take their navigator to dinner.
While some provisions of the ACA have been pushed back, Clark said he does not expect the March 31
deadline to be adjusted.
"We just urge people to come out and sit down," Clark said. "Give us an opportunity to
show you what your available options are and finally get health insurance for you and your family."