The Ottumwa Courier

November 27, 2013

Navigating Obamacare

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — It's no secret there have been problems with new federal health care regulations. What hasn't received as much attention: there are experts ready to help applicants navigate the sometimes challenging paths of the Affordable Care Act.

Sharon Mier said for some Ottumwans, the results have been worth the effort. She's a certified application counselor, a "CAC," who works as the outreach and enrollment coordinator for River Hills Community Health Center.

"For example, I had a husband and wife that had a low premium, which was $120," she said. "Their deductible was $300, and out of pocket was $600. And they were very pleased; they hadn't had insurance in years."

According to Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart, there are several ways Iowans can get help signing up for "Obamacare" health insurance. He and an assistant were in Ottumwa recently as part of a multi-city educational tour. They said the ways to get help include "navigators, CACs and going directly to" with questions.

Though Meir already had a background in social work, she had to undergo training and testing to be a CAC. She knows, she said, that this health care project has glitches.

"It can be very challenging," she said. "Anybody would qualify [for my help] if they wanted to check out the marketplace. If anybody has a question as to whether they qualify, they can definitely contact me. We can first try online, though there have been some challenges there. And I've found ways to work around some of them. If we can't get results online, we don't give up; we can do a paper application."

She's the full-time counselor in Ottumwa, and there's a part-timer in Richland and Centerville.

"I've been getting some really good results for people," Mier said. "That is, if you have people who have not had health insurance for years, they're finding out they can be covered. Some of them can get help with their premiums, help with cost sharing [which is the] deductible and co-pay, plus the co-insurance."

As part of her outreach, she's gone to announce her availability to different agencies. And several applicants told Mier someone in a different agency, like the Iowa Department of Human Services, had recommended her for her expertise. But remember, said a representative in Des Moines, DHS has more direct ways to offer help.

Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the human services agency, said they have a call center available via a toll-free number where knowledgeable employees guide applicants through the process. Though there are paper applications at most DHS offices, the form can be downloaded, too.

"There's a number of ways they [can apply and] don't have to leave their house," McCoy said.

McCoy said the Iowa DHS website has tips for getting help, too. Some ways to make the application process go quicker, regardless of who is applying, are to have your Social Security number or document number for legal immigrants; have employer and income information for your family such as pay stubs or wage statements; any current health insurance policy numbers and information about job-related health insurance that’s available.

— To follow reporter Mark Newman on Twitter, see @CourierMark

For help applying for the Affordable Care Act, contact the following: River Hills Community Health Center, 201 Market St., at 641-683-5773 Apply online at or at Apply by phone at the federal hub at 1-800-318-2596 or through the DHS Contact Center at 1-855-889-7985