Tuesday is the first day in which people can buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. In fact, most people who don’t already have insurance are required to buy it in the next six months or face a tax penalty.
This affects a lot of people. In Middle Georgia alone, more than 83,000 people don’t have health insurance, a population nearly equivalent to the entire city of Macon.
That figure comes from Mike Stucka, data reporter for The Telegraph of Macon, who analyzed U.S. Census Bureau numbers in an 11 county region (Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Crawford, Houston, Jones, Laurens, Monroe, Peach, Twiggs and Wilkinson counties).
“It averages out to about one in five people” in Middle Georgia who don’t have insurance, Stucka said. “With the working age (low-income) men (ages 19 to 65), in particular, in every county we looked at it was about half of those folks who didn’t have health insurance.”
Crawford County has the highest rate of uninsured people, while Houston County has the lowest, Stucka said, but variation is minor.
Say you’re one of those uninsured people. You can sign up for insurance under ObamaCare starting Tuesday morning at healthcare.gov.
If you need help, there are people called “navigators” assigned to all the regions of Georgia whose job it is to walk you through the process. The University of Georgia has hired 12 of them.
The navigator for Georgia’s “southeast” region, roughly encompassing Middle Georgia, is Tammy Allen, who is based at the UGA extension office in Johnson County. She serves Jasper, Putnam, Jones, Baldwin, Bibb, Twiggs, Wilkinson, Peach, Houston, Laurens and Johnson counties.
Allen is available at the extension office, 478-864-3373, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We will just be giving information on how to go through the process, and then all decision making is up to the individual,” Allen said. “If they have some technology questions I can kind of guide them [with] how to do that.”
Allen will be helping people in-person, but generally not on an individual basis. Her plan is to wait until she gets a few inquiries from a single community, and then schedule a public workshop in which she can help those people in small groups, she said.
If you’re wondering why there’s only one UGA navigator for an entire 11 county region, it’s because Georgia is funding navigators with a modest federal grant.
Governor Nathan Deal opted not to set up Georgia’s own healthcare exchange, and to use the federal system instead. Other states are hiring many more navigators on their own dime.
If you need help signing up for health insurance under ObamaCare, there is another option available to you: insurance agents.
“I think people aren’t aware of that,” said Helen Grove, a health insurance broker with the McNeal Insurance Agency in Warner Robins.
While navigators are only allowed to help people with the basics of the sign-up process, an insurance broker is free to advise people on which plan might be best for them, Grove said.
There is no fee to use a broker, Grove said. Agents are paid by whichever insurance company you sign up with.
However, Grove cautions that not all agents are licensed to sell insurance through the federal exchange, and you should be sure to ask.