Baton Rouge- and New Orleans-area hospitals, with help from insurance agents, are helping lead the effort to enroll people under the Affordable Care Act by providing patients with assistance and information about health coverage options.
Both Ochsner Health System and Baton Rouge General Medical Center are helping at all of their campuses.
“As caregivers, we understand how important access to health care coverage is to taking care of yourself and your family. ... Helping our residents get covered is one way we are responding to the needs of our community,” said Mark Slyter, president and chief executive officer of Baton Rouge General.
The General began offering the free service in early December, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at the Mid City Campus. But in January, The General began offering help from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the main lobbies of both campuses and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. in both emergency rooms. That service ends Feb. 13.
Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” ends Feb. 15. People who already have an ACA plan have the option to re-enroll, pick a new plan or update their information to see if they can lower their premiums. People who qualify for coverage in 2015 but don’t enroll may have to pay a penalty of $325 per adult and $162.50 for those under 18, or 2 percent of family income if that is more.
Ochsner offered enrollment help at all of its campuses last year and continued this year. The health system’s efforts have helped it secure designations from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as a Champion for Coverage and Certified Application Counselor Organization. Enrollment information is available in Spanish at Ochsner’s Kenner campus and in Vietnamese at the health system’s West Bank facility. The hours assistance is available vary by location.
A major reason Ochsner and the General can offer enrollment help is that both have partnered with Health Agents for America, a national group headquartered in Baton Rouge.
B. Ronnell Nolan, HAFA president and CEO, said between 50 and 75 agents are staffing tables in the lobbies and ERs of the General and Ochsner locations. Agents are also working at St. James Parish Hospital in Lutcher.
The agents are split into three shifts at the General’s emergency rooms and two shifts in the lobbies, Nolan said. Staffing at the Ochsner facilities varies.
“It’s just a win-win-win,” Nolan said. “People come to the hospital. They don’t have insurance. The agents provide the information for free to consumers and the service for free to the hospitals.”
The hospitals benefit because they get to remove uninsured people from their patient rolls, she said. The consumers get free help to find health coverage. In Louisiana, agents can earn a commission of about 8 percent of premium for first-year enrollments and 2 percent for the second year.
The only real challenge has been coordinating all the agents’ schedules, Nolan said.
Nolan said HAFA has members from coast to coast, and she would like to see the hospital-agent partnerships spread throughout the country.
“That’s what I want to do is make sure we have an agent in every hospital in the United States,” Nolan said.
In order to get help, the General advises consumers to bring valid identification and income information, such as a recent pay stub. Complimentary valet parking is available at the main hospital entrances of both campuses.