madison-press.com

Navigator is here to help

By Jane Beathard jbeathard@civitasmedia.com

February 25, 2014

If you have questions about the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — Melvin Verhoff has the answers.


As Madison County’s “navigator” for the new health insurance marketplace, Verhoff responds to queries about the program and helps applicants sign up — either online or on paper — all at no charge.


Working 20 hours a week from an office at Madison County Health Partners (Free Clinic), Verhoff puts a friendly, helpful face on America’s controversial health insurance overhaul.


A call to (740) 845-7552 will get an appointment with Verhoff. He also provides over-the-phone advice to those dealing at home with glitches in the healthcare.gov website.


Anyone can call. His services are not restricted to local residents.


“I try to keep (hours) as flexibile as possible to serve as many people as possible,” Verhoff said.


While he cannot recommend an insurance option, Verhoff directs clients to appropriate choices among the many plans offered under Obamacare.


He first talks over their needs and desires and explains the language of health insurance (co-pays, deductibles, out-of-pocket, etc.) to those unfamiliar with the terms.


He asks questions: Do they want to keep their current physician? What medications do they take? Are they income eligible for tax credits or Medicaid?


Despite media reports to the contrary, Verhoff generally finds enrolling at healthcare.gov a smooth process. Glitches occur, but are easily solved, he said.


He believes in the work.


“Overall, it’s very helpful and good for our country because it will bring (health care) costs down,” Verhoff said.


A $1.9 million federal grant supports the work of Verhoff and 74 associated navigators throughout Ohio. A consortium of 12 community organizations under the umbrella of the Ohio Association of Food Banks sought the grant. One of the 12 was the Ohio Association of Free Clinics (OAFC), according to Joree Jacobs, consortium spokesperson.


“We targeted as many geographic areas as possible, both urban and rural,” she said.


Madison County’s busy free clinic offered plenty of potential clients and ample office space, said Maureen Ringlein of the OAFC.


“We reached out to all clinics to see which needed and wanted a navigator,” Ringlein said.


Verhoff, who moved to the county from northwest Ohio last year, volunteered in the local clinic prior to stepping into the navigator position.


Twenty-five hours of training led to state certification. He began counseling clients after the holidays and expects to be busy through the initial March 31 open enrollment deadline.


After that date, only clients left uninsured by a life change such as divorce, relocation or job loss can sign up during the current federal fiscal year.


Funding for Verhoff and fellow navigators ends Aug. 31. But Jacobs hopes for renewal of the federal grant before open enrollment begins again on Oct. 1.


In the meantime, the consortium continues to host educational seminars regarding Obamacare around the state.


Seminar times and locations, as well as other information about the Affordable Care Act, are available at ohioforhealth.org.


Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 16 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.