Obamacare application counselor goes from skepticism to optimism

sjones@thesunnews.comSeptember 30, 2013 

Jessica Doyle is a counselor waiting for the Affordable Care Act to be enacted Tuesday so she can help the uninsured get insurance. She works at Little River Medical Center in Little River. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

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  • Affordable Care Act

    Health insurance marketplaces open Tuesday.

    For information and to apply | www.healthcare.gov

— Jessica Doyle felt much like many South Carolinians about Obamacare a few months ago.

At best, she was skeptical. At worst, she thought the federal health insurance plan a boondoggle.

But then she left her job as a bank teller for a spot at Little River Medical Center as a certified application counselor, drawn by the opportunity to learn and to help people.

“The only thing I knew was there was a new insurance [program] coming out, and my job would be helping people,” she said. “I was very surprised after learning about it.”

She became confident that the program was ready to go, would help a lot of people who are now uninsured, and switched her skeptic hat to that of a believer.

“I think it’s going to help people like the middle class,” she said.

Doyle, a Coastal Carolina University graduate who has been working on an online MBA from Charleston Southern University, is one of four certified application counselors at Little River Medical Center, where half of its 23,000 patients are uninsured.

The state got a federal grant to train 45 counselors at community health centers across the state, said Becky Fowler, spokeswoman for the S.C. Primary Health Care Association. The list includes counselors at Health Care Partners in Conway, but Fowler said she doesn’t know about others. She’s sure that some physicians offices and hospitals will also have people trained to help consumers through the process.

Most of the counselor training is online and the certification comes from the federal government after completing the online work, but the association also held sessions.

“We’re helping fill in the blanks around affordable health care,” Fowler said.

There are an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 South Carolinians who have no health insurance. Of that number, according to statistics from the S.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 169,000 are eligible for Medicaid.

The department plans an effort to reach out and sign up those who are eligible but have not applied.

The rest, though, will be working through the system online at healtcare.gov, where individual help is offered, or through counselors such as Doyle.

She said the Little River counselors have been contacting the practice’s uninsured patients and making appointments for in-person help sessions beginning Tuesday, the first day people can apply for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

“I was expecting a lot of people would be angry that we were calling them,” Doyle said. “But no, that wasn’t the case. They were excited to learn about it.”

She’s estimating each session will take about an hour.

Those who get insurance by Dec. 15 will be covered as of Jan. 1, but the initial sign-up period goes through the end of March. Those who apply later will have their coverage start later.

Doyle said she thinks people will begin to see that the national program isn’t so bad once it gets going and the news about it doesn’t seem totally negative.

In the meantime, she said, her friends have held onto their skeptic hats.

“I ask them not to pre-judge it,” she said, “but they don’t listen.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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