Drive on to get people health insurance through new marketplace

LACONIA — With the deadline to enroll in the health insurance marketplace of March 31 fast approaching, Health First Family Care and ServiceLink have mounted an campaign to introduce those in Belknap County without coverage altogether or saddled with expensive premiums to the marketplace.

Donna Toomey of Health First and Marian Gill and Allison Hutchins of ServiceLink are all trained and certified to assist individuals and families find their way through the exchange established by the Affordable Care Act. "We want to get out to everybody throughout Belknap County," Gill said, stressing that there is no charge for the services they provide.

While the program is primarily directed at those without health insurance, Toomey said that individuals with coverage, especially those with preexisting conditions assigned to the high risk pool, can secure better coverage at less cost on the exchange. For example, she said that one man was able to reduce his monthly premium from $800 to $362 while another self-employed entrepreneur saved $500 a month.

"For those in the high risk pool the exchange is a godsend," she said, "We're urging everyone to compare their coverage with what is offered on the exchange."

Toomey explained that individuals with earnings between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for premium tax credits based on the size of their household while those with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of poverty are eligible for subsidies to defray out-of-pocket costs, like co-pays and deductibles, with the purchase of particular plans.

Gill said as a certified marketplace assister she can shepherd people through the process of creating an account, verifying their identity, completing an application, determining their eligibility for financial assistance and comparing the different plans. But, she emphasized that the choice of plan rests exclusively with the individuals. "We can help people understand the differences between plans so they can make comparisons, but we cannot direct them to a specific plan."

To reach as many people as possible, Toomey, Gill and Hutchins have held forums, attended events and visited employers. "We'll be at the Tilton Winter Farmers Market, New England Pond Hockey Classic and Great Rotary Fishing Derby in Meredith and Winter Carnival in Franklin," she said. "We'll go where the people are."

Linda Glassett of LRGHealthcare, which is hosting an enrollment fair today between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Lakes Region General Hospital, said that health insurance is first step of ensuring that patients receive "the right care at the right time and at the right place." She added that LRGH is in the process of hiring a person who, like Toomey, Gill and Hutchins is certified to assist people with the enrollment process.

Those seeking more information about the new healthcare marketplace can contact ServiceLink Resource Center, 67 Water Street, Suite 105, Laconia, NH 03246 at 603-528-6945 or HealthFirst Family Care Center, 22 Strafford Street, Laconia, NH 03246 at 603-366-1070.