SPREADING THE WORD - Officials urge residents to register for health care coverage

It’s urgent that the approximately 15,000 Jefferson County residents lacking health insurance obtain coverage by Dec. 23 so they can avoid being charged for a number of services currently provided free by the Jefferson County Health Department, local officials said Monday.

The Affordable Care Act, which requires all citizens to be insured, goes into effect on Jan. 1. The registration deadline for coverage on that date is Dec. 23, JCHD Director Quranner Cotledge and Arkansas Insurance Department-licensed supervising insurance consultant Eva McGee advised members of Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s staff on Monday.

Cotledge and McGee also requested the help of the mayor’s office in informing the public of the matter, telling Chief Assistant Evelyn Horton and Special Project Coordinator Lanette Frazier that it’s vital that residents are made aware of requirements. McGee asked if a reverse 9-1-1 notification might be employed in the effort, and was referred to Metropolitan Emergency Communication Association Director Melinda Elliott.

Meanwhile, Horton placed Cotledge and McGee on an agenda for January’s Pine Bluff Town Hall meeting.

Cotledge said the currently free services for which health department clients would be charged if not insured after Jan. 1 would primarily involve family planning, annual examinations and sexually transmitted diseases.

“No one will be turned away if they don’t have health insurance,” Cotledge stressed, “but the propose of the Affordable Care Act is that everyone is to have coverage.”

McGee said many uninsured local residents are within an income bracket that would require no premium or co-pay expenses.

“And once a person has health insurance, they can go to anyone they choose,” she added. “And they don’t have to pay any money to enroll.”

Cotledge pointed out that enrollment is “confidential” but can take an hour or more. He acknowledged problems experienced on the program’s national website, suggesting that interested individuals might prefer using a state site, access.arkansas.

McGee, who related that residents should employ caution in registering or dealing with individuals who falsely claim to be insurance providers, said some scam artists are already at work locally. She and Cotledge suggested that citizens contact her or another state-certified “assister” working with the health department.

McGee said the guides are well-trained, having completed more than 80 hours of classroom and online instruction and satisfying state and federal background checks and drug tests to obtain state licensing.

The helpers and their telephone numbers are:

• Cheryl Boyd — 870-344-2063

• Jennifer Cofield — 870-344-2135

• TyKesha Cross — 870-344-2096

• Shameika Martin — 870-344-2114

• McGee — 870-344-2876

• Yvonne Murphy Sowels — 870-344-2167

• Cecil VanVeckhoven — 870-344-2055

• Sandra Williams — 870-344-2194