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Nationally, about 9,000 help desk agents are taking calls in English, Spanish and about 150 other languages. Roughly 2,000 of those employees are based at call centers in Utah — one in Layton and in Sandy — but calls will be coming in from throughout the nation, so don’t expect your call necessarily to be answered by a local.
Employees are trained to help consumers compare plans and walk them through the application process, but agents can’t choose a plan for a consumer, said Mike Fierberg, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Utah’s two exchanges
Utah is unique among the states. Its marketplace for individuals and families is run by federal health officials, and is found at www.healthcare.gov.
The state operates another exchange, Avenue H, exclusively for Utah small business owners who opt to use it and their employees. Learn more here.
At a glance: Help with enrolling
Online chat at healthcare.gov
Toll-free call center at 1-800-318-2596
Go to www.takecareutah.org or call 211 to find the nearest trained navigator
Find a certified insurance broker near you at bit.ly/brokerfind
Try this calculator to find out if you might qualify for a subsidy: http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/
"We know that a large proportion of people don’t understand health insurance and the call center people are there to provide guidance," Fierberg said.
Try a broker » Insurance brokers may not be familiar with the ins and outs of Medicaid, but they know health insurance.
"Navigators can only help you fill out an application. A certified insurance agent can recommend and discuss plans," said Justin Peterson, an agent with Laub Insurance Agency.
Brokers are familiar with Utah’s hospital networks and insurance company track records, Peterson pointed out.
They can help consumers anticipate their health costs, based on prior spending, and find coverage matched to their budgets and specific health needs, he said. "Those are the kinds of questions we deal with on a daily basis."
Some work for insurance carriers and have financial incentives to steer consumers to that carrier.
But many brokers are certified to sell all plans on the exchange, said Peterson. Commissions are built into the premiums shoppers pay, whether they use a broker or not, he said.
Insurance agents and brokers who have completed ACA certification are listed on at bit.ly/brokerfind.
Information from insurers » Consumers can call or check the websites of the six businesses selling policies on Utah’s exchange.
Arches Health Plan, for example, has web-based tools that allow consumers to shop its exchange plans and drill down to see whether their doctor is covered. But the nonprofit Consumer-Oriented and Operated Plan, or CO-OP, can’t connect shoppers to possible federal subsidies.
Arches is proposing a temporary "work-around" to federal health officials, which would entail enrolling shoppers, estimating their subsidy, and billing the feds for payment of those individuals’ tax credit.
But going directly to individual insurers risks limiting customers’ choices, because carriers don’t market competitors’ plans.
"To see the full range of options, consumers will need to be patient with healthcare.gov," acknowledged Judi Hilman, Arches vice president of strategic partnerships and consumer engagement.
A peek at prices » If www.healthcare.gov isn’t working, consumers can at least see the prices of exchange policies in their area in a report from the Utah Department of Insurance. Prices vary by county and competition is fierce, with 96 plans to choose from statewide. Find the report here or see a federal worksheet at http://1.usa.gov/19VKIzp.
Help on the web » Salt Lake County offers residents an online resource at http://www.slco.org/humanservices/affordablecareact, which explains the main aspects of the law and how it might impact them. It also links consumers to federally run sites with the most up-to-date information.Next Page >
By the numbers
2011 » 301,700
2012 » 377,700
2013 » 376,600, 13.2 percent of the population
2010 » 380,921
2011 » 411,926
2012 » 411,000, 14.4 percent of the population
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey; Utah Department of Health
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