By Pat Jenkins
The federal Affordable Healthcare Act’s mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance comes due March 31. And free local help is still available for anyone who needs a hand signing up.
Eatonville Family Agency, an official source of one-on-one assistance, is guiding individuals and families through the process of enrolling via the online healthcare exchange. Two more days of help by appointment or walk-in are scheduled for March 22 and March 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. boy days at Eatonville Community Center, where the non-profit agency is located.
Appointments can be made by calling the agency at 360-832-6805. The center is in Eatonville at 305 Center St. W.
The agency is among eight community organizations in Pierce County designated as Affordable Care Act (ACA) assisters. Their personnel received training for the service from Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
The goal is to inform everyone in Pierce County “about the new health plans and financial help that will be available and encourage them to get coverage,” said Beth Wilson, a program manager for the Health Department.
That’s been happening, to one degree or another, since the enrollment process that deadlines this month began Oct. 1, 2013.
Things got off to a rough start, as Lori Culver, Eatonville Family Agency’s executive director, can attest. The online registration system crashed, making enrollment slow if not virtually impossible throughout Washington and nationwide. Since the technical glitches were worked out, “we are in a much better position to assist people,” Culver said..
Before enrollment began last October, the agency held public meetings to explain the healthcare process. At a meeting in September, some of the 75 people who attended mainly wanted to know “What is it” and “How does it affect me?” Culver related. “There were some who wanted to debate the merits of the ACA, but I reminded people that we weren’t there to debate the politics behind healthcare reform but rather to accept that fact that it was coming and we wanted to do all we can do to help those who need enrollment assistance.”
Extensive skepticism that her agency encountered initially has slipped away as people enroll. Culver said it’s been “very gratifying to see someone who has never had healthcare coverage before realize that they can now receive medical treatment. They simply can’t believe that it’s true. Their skepticism becomes excitement.”
More free help enrolling is available through the Pierce County Library System. In partnership with the county Health Department, the libraries are providing access to computers and information through the March 31 deadline.
In the early months of the open enrollment period, the libraries also hosted in-person assisters. Sessions were held at the Graham, Eatonville, Parkland-Spanaway and South Hill branch libraries, among others.