As the third year of Healthcare.gov gets underway, an estimated 90,000 people in the St. Louis region are still uninsured and eligible to buy health insurance on the federal marketplace, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
Effort for AIDS counselors like Sade Singleton have spent the past few months leading up to enrollment doing outreach and health literacy presentations throughout the region. Last year, the nonprofit helped about 700 people sign up for health insurance in St. Louis.
“We go out into the community to reach people who are underserved, who may not have access to us or have a car to get here,” Singleton said. “We do outreach at beauty salons and barber shops… if we went there every day we could probably get a different group of people.”
Though the cost of a Missouri-based plan used as a benchmark will rise about 10.4 percent, an analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that consumers could save an average of $502 (before tax credits) by signing in again and doing some comparison shopping for similar plans.
For many Missourians, a trained application counselor will help guide them through the signup process.
In previous years, those counselors were in limbo over a Missouri state law that prohibited them from giving advice about a particular plan, and from providing information about plans outside the federal marketplace. In St. Louis, those would have included Medicaid and the Gateway to Better Health program, two coverage options for people whose incomes fall below federal poverty levels.
“Because we serve individuals living with HIV and AIDS, one of the biggest concerns we had is with (the Ryan White Program), actually having insurance plans that they picked for clients that were best suited in the given region,” said Dale Wrigley, the clinical director for the Saint Louis Effort for AIDS.
In 2013, Wrigley’s organization and two Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the Missouri law in federal court and won. After an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court, a judge affirmed the decision in April of 2015, sending some details of the case back to district court. A final decision by that judge is expected soon, Wrigley said.
Because a stay was granted during legal proceedings, application counselors weren’t hindered by the law in years past. But the 2015 decision provides a stronger foundation for organizations like the Effort for AIDS, which moved into a second floor at 1027 S. Vandeventer Ave to expand its application assistance program.
This year’s enrollment season runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, 2016.
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