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Local residents urged to enroll in health insurance by Monday deadline

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New York state residents have until Monday to enroll in a health insurance plan to avoid a penalty when they file their 2014 income taxes.

Penalties are $95 per person, or 1 percent of gross income for up to three people in a household.

“You could at least have a basic coverage plan for the max penalty cost,” said Donna Hynes, North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council insurance program coordinator. “If you’re going to pay that, why not at least have some insurance.”

People who enroll in a plan by Monday will have coverage May 1.

The North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council is one of a few local agencies that have contracts to serve as navigators for people who need to enroll in a health insurance plan through NY State of Health, the online enrollment tool to help people find a plan that meets their needs. The open enrollment period, which began in the fall, ends Monday.

“We have a few appointments Monday, but we try not to cut it that close,” Mrs. Hynes said. “We’ve got a few openings, and we just keep adding spaces and hours. Lewis County has been really busy. I don’t know if it’s because of the high self-employment there.”

Since October, four navigators and Mrs. Hynes have helped 650 residents of Jefferson and Lewis counties complete applications. About two-thirds of them have been submitted, and the rest await the state’s approval. Aside from those figures, Mrs. Hynes said, navigators also enrolled about 200 people in Medicaid, Child Health Plus or Family Health Plus from October to December.

Few people have opted to add dental coverage, which runs about $20 per month, to their plan, Mrs. Hynes said. There are no vision options, either, she said.

Bonnie G. Towles, patient navigator with ACR Health, said most people are satisfied with the medical coverage they select.

“They get a good, low premium and the coverage is very good,” she said. “I’ve only had two people who’ve walked out of here without health insurance by their choice.”

As the Monday deadline approaches, Mrs. Towles said she’d rather be busy.

“Bring it on,” she said. “We’ll make accommodations for people.”

That means meeting Jefferson or Lewis county residents in the ACR Health office, 120 Washington St., at their homes or elsewhere in the community. Mrs. Towles said she has helped more than 100 people work on applications, but not all chose a plan, and some did not return to the office.

“It’s been pretty steady for us here,” she said.

Anne Marie Snell, director of navigation for the St. Lawrence Health Initiative, said while all appointment slots are booked this week, the four navigators at her office for St. Lawrence County “are finding ways to squeeze people in.”

She said she did not know the number of applications the agency has handled so far.

A component of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 15 marketplaces, including the one in New York, have been implemented in states and the District of Columbia, separate from the federal system. The remaining 36 states have marketplaces that are supported or fully run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mrs. Towles said the system is working here, and she has guided many people to health plans for the first time.

While she and Mrs. Hynes anticipate being busy through Monday,they said navigators will remain available throughout the year to help people sign up for coverage who experience a life-altering event, such as marriage or having a child, among others. Throughout the year, navigators also may help people enroll in some government insurance programs.

Mrs. Hynes said anyone who has problems with insurance purchased through the system can call the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council at 788-8533 to be connected with the Community Health Advocates program. The program is a part of the Affordable Care Act that provides assistance to those who enrolled. Mrs. Hynes said the program began in February and will run through August.

A list of local navigators can be viewed online at www.nystateofhealth.ny.gov.

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