A North Carolina couple quickly walked through the parking lot of the Myrtle Beach mall, blaming the chilly temperature on tourists.
“They [tourists] brought the cold weather with them from Canada,” they said jokingly before disappearing through an entrance.
Inside the mall, two former residents of Canada and current U.S. citizens Antonio and Maria Tavares didn’t seem to mind the reference while they waited their turn to meet with a certified enrollment counselor to sign up for health insurance at an event which brought the Health Insurance Marketplace to the mall on Saturday.
Celeste Bondurant-Bell, director of Community Development at Little River Medical Center, said it was no coincidence the health fair was held on the same day enrollment opened for uninsured to sign up for federal health care insurance plans.
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“Everything just fell into place,” said Bondurant-Bell of the opening day for enrollment which runs through Feb. 15, 2015, and their partnership with Henry Schein CARES.
The partnership with Henry Schein CARES resulted after Little River Medical Center met required criteria – providing several types of screenings which included dental and medical – then was awarded one of only 14 grants provided by the Henry Schein CARES Foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) since 2008, according to Joe Clark, Henry Schein, Inc. regional sales manager for Georgia and Florida.
“Henry Schein CARES Foundation is our company’s way of giving back,” Clark said.
The health fair and enrollment event, a first for Horry County according to a press release, provided more than 30 information booths along with an array of free screenings: asthma, blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, vision, dental and more, and also offered health insurance information and assistance with enrollment.
There were 18 enrollments completed in the first hour of the event that started at 10 a.m. and wrapped up at 2 p.m.
The [enrollment] process takes about 45 minutes, according to Bondurant-Bell.
Without assistance, enrolling in one of the five plans available – silver, gold, bronze, platinum and catastrophic – can be confusing, which is a reason the event was held, to answer questions and provide assistance to those who wished to meet one-on-one with an enrollment counselor or a navigator.
“They both basically do the same thing,” explained Crystal Evans, outreach coordinator for South Carolina Primary Healthcare Association. “They are all certified to assist with enrollment.”
But even with a new call center that was made possible by a grant initiative to the Palmetto Project, some prefer the one-on-one time and face-to-face interaction of a live person.
“It was [all] too complicated,” said Maria Tavares.
The Marketplace at HealthCare.gov was developed to be “a resource where individuals, families, and small businesses can: learn about their health coverage options; compare health insurance plans based on costs, benefits, and other important features; choose a plan; and enroll in coverage.”
But it didn’t provide the Tavareses with the answers they needed to choose a plan that was right for them, and choosing that plan had to wait until they both became legal U.S. citizens about a month ago.
As Maria Tavares, 66, showed off her new South Carolina driver’s license, Antonio, 70, explained another dilemma: They are retired, over the age of 65, and they remain qualified for free insurance in Canada but not Medicare.
At one time they said they traveled to and from Canada – every four months – for medical care.
They came to the mall after an employee at Little River Medical Center told them about the event because they [both] believe strongly in having health insurance and that it should be a No. 1 priority.
“You can’t drive away with a car without car insurance, can you?” asked Antonio Tavares.
Priscilla Brantley of South Carolina Primary Healthcare Association was also at the Marketplace Saturday to provide assistance and answer questions.
The event, organized by Little River Medical Center, South Carolina Primary Healthcare Association, St. James Santee Community Center and Henry Schein CARES, “is a good way to share resources with the community,” Brantley said.
Sara Ross-Trimmer agreed. A friend told her about the event.
“I’ve got all my screenings done: height, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure,” she said as she held up a folded piece of paper as proof.
Ross-Trimmer was just missing one thing: affordable health care coverage.
She explained the company she works for dropped her family’s coverage for four after the affordable health care plans became available.
“They told us to call somebody,” she said. “Then, we had it once, but now we don’t.”
Ross-Trimmer’s predicament isn’t isolated and resonates the reasoning behind the health fair: to help those who can sometimes fall through the cracks or not know what’s available to them.
Bondurant-Bell explained: “At least 50 percent [of people] are actually qualified and they don’t know it.”
Bondurant-Bell also said if anyone missed today’s event, there will be dates and places posted at http://www.lrmcenter.com/ when they will be holding more enrollment events prior to the Feb. 15 deadline.
And that is good news for eight-year employee at Ruby Tuesday, Herbert Woodbury.
Woodbury said he lost some of his benefits after he was transitioned by his employer from full-time to part-time earlier in the year.
“I need more insurance,” he said. “I’d rather have this and I’m going to call.”