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Navigator trying to help people find marketplace fix




Wednesday is more than just New Year's Day for many people nationwide. It also is the first day they will have health insurance.

Sayre Shuck, First Care Clinic's certified navigator for the Affordable Care Act marketplace, said those who have paid their first month's premium by today will be covered. Some insurers have extended that deadline to Jan. 10.

March 31 is the final day one can seek coverage. Adults without health insurance will be penalized $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater, when they file their 2014 income taxes. Children will be fined $47.

Shuck said the program might appeal to people because the tax credits available to middle-class families, which subsidize monthly premiums, and cost sharing reductions make coverage affordable. Although some have struggled signing up, Shuck has guided applicants through the process.

"I've had some people come in and be very frustrated. But then, you know, getting some information from me and getting kind of the facts, they've seem to have left feeling better," she said.

Glitches have included verifying eligibility for premium tax credits and accessing the health care website, www.healthcare.gov.

Applicants' main question concerns costs. Insurers cannot charge different prices for plans inside and outside the market.

Consumers have been satisfied with their coverage's outlook before it begins, she said.

"When they've had a chance to look over their plans, they seem like they like the plan," she said.

Those younger than 30 can opt for catastrophic health care plans, and there are other tiered options. There are three insurers available in Ellis County, and they offer bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans.

Bryan Brady, chief executive officer of First Care Clinic, said the facility will evaluate its operations after the health care program's March 31 deadline.

"With the problems with the healthcare.gov website and everything ... I'm not expecting anybody right away," Brady said. "We may see an increase of people accessing services who haven't had health care before, but I don't think it's anything where we're changing our staffing model or anything."

More patients likely would use the clinic if the state exercised its options.

"With Kansas choosing not to expand Medicaid, we're still leaving out a significant gap of the population who doesn't qualify for a subsidy in the exchange and also does not qualify for Medicaid," Brady said. "I think if they were to expand Medicaid, we would have seen a bigger influx of patients and the need for services."

Shuck will be available for questions regarding the Affordable Care Act at five sessions:

* 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at Plainville Memorial Library, 200 S.W. First, Plainville.

* 7 p.m. Jan. 7 at Ellis Public Library, 907 Washington, Ellis.

* 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at Russell Public Library, 126 E. Sixth, Russell.

* 2 p.m. Jan. 16 at First Care Clinic, 105 W. 13th, Hays.

* 5:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at First Care Clinic, 105 W. 13th, Hays.