ELIZABETHTON — Tracy Pate and Aubrey Everhart spent much of Thursday dispelling misinformation about the health insurance marketplace that debuted this month as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Pate said in a meeting room at the Carter County/Elizabethton Public Library, where her organization, Northeast Tennessee Project Access, and other marketplace navigators set up shop to help residents learn about and apply for the new marketplace.
“One fellow earlier was saying he didn’t have income, so he didn’t think he could afford anything and was afraid the government was going to take away his driver’s license,” she said. “There are a lot of different exemptions and waivers in this plan, so if you could prove that it was unaffordable, you would be exempt from paying the fine and from buying a plan.”
Throughout the day, Pate led presentations and fielded questions related the new health care law as part of the first of many off-site outreach events to be hosted by Project Access.
Everhart, the organization’s director, said a majority of her employees’ time so far has been dedicated to helping people understand the new regulations.
“People are trying to figure out all of the things they’ve been told — what’s true, what isn’t true,” she said. “We’re trying to clear up some of those myths, which is the biggest thing we’re doing right now.”
She said the most common questions involve the potential loss of current federal assistance, the loss of insurance plans and penalties to those who can’t afford the offered marketplace plans.
“The whole point of the Affordable Care Act is to provide meaningful access to insurance,” Everhart said. “It is not meant to penalize people who aren’t able to get insurance. Those who cannot afford it will not be charged a penalty.”
When the marketplace’s website was introduced last week, it was immediately flooded with millions of online applicants, causing crashes and malfunctions.
Government spokespeople say the capacity problem and other glitches are currently being repaired.
Applicants who hope to purchase an insurance plan through the marketplace have until March to apply.
Pate said one of the potential problems in Northeast Tennessee could arise from the lack of choices of insurance providers.
While each company is required to offer four differently priced plans for the same basic coverage, only one company, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, has signed up to offer plans on the exchange.
“The other companies will have to start offering plans on there or give the option for discounted plans if they want to stay competitive,” Pate said. “When all of these new customers comes to BlueCross BlueShield, the other companies will have to try to get some of that business, too.
“It’s really a good opportunity for a local provider to come in and try to offer a cheaper plan,” she added.
Project Access plans several more informational events throughout it’s eight-county service area during the open enrolment period.
A calendar of events and locations where residents can learn more or apply for the marketplace can be found at http://projectaccesseasttn.org.