Enrollment period begins to obtain Obamacare insurance

The sign-up period for insurance coverage under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, began Tuesday, and Southeast Arkansas residents have several options available to them to find out about coverage.

Arkansas declined to set up its own Obamacare-compliant healthcare exchange as was its option under the ACA, meaning that Arkansas residents will need to visit the federally administered www.healthcare.gov health insurance marketplace to shop for plans.

Applicants can complete the enrollment process either online, by phone or in person with the help of assisters licensed by the State Insurance Department.

The open enrollment period for the first year goes from Oct. 1 until March 31, but anyone who wishes to have their insurance become active on Jan. 1, 2014 must complete the enrollment process by Dec. 20.

“We have three people on staff who have gone through the training to be in-person assisters,” said Kathy Harris, president and CEO of Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare System Inc. in Pine Bluff. “Anyone who is a resident of Jefferson, Grant or Arkansas counties can come in and have one of our assisters guide them through the online marketplace process.

“We have had a lot of people calling today to find out about how the open enrollment period works,” Harris said.

Harris said that while at present no appointment is needed to meet with an assister, as more people begin to come in appointments may become necessary.

“The application process takes up to 2.5 hours so we will most likely move to appointments,” Harris said.

“Our marketplace guides completed a three-phase training process that included taking a week of classes at Southeast Arkansas College; an online federal training course that took more than a week to complete; and a series of tests to show that they had the appropriate knowledge base.”

Harris said her guides attended a final meeting at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock last week to go over scenarios and how to handle particular situations.

“They have all now applied for their licenses through the State Insurance Department,” Harris said. “Until their licenses arrive they will be able to give information to people but cannot enroll them yet.”

Max Greenwood, spokeswoman for Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, said her organization was continuing to assist customers interested in the Obamacare-compliant health insurance plans.

“We have been doing outreach for a while,” Greenwood said. “We have staff ready to help customers with any questions they may have. Today was the day that people have really gone out to see what specific information they can get on the insurance plans available under the Affordable Care Act.”

Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare System can be reached at 870-534-1834.

The Health Insurance Marketplace can be reached at any time by calling 1-800-318-2596.