Katie Nungesser saw daily the relief – and sometimes tears – on people’s faces when she informs them they will be able to afford health insurance, in many cases for the first time ever.
Until recently Katie, 28, worked as a certified Navigator with the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska in Lincoln, helping people discover their health insurance options in the Health Insurance Marketplace and pick a plan that meets their needs and fits their budget.
“People were very used to paying $300-500 each month per person for insurance,” Katie said “For most people I’ve seen, it’s been no more than $50 a month for them through the Marketplace.”
Navigators like Katie are stationed with organizations across Nebraska to help people compare insurance plans and pricing in plain language, then purchase insurance through the Marketplace web site. Katie said that since the initial problems with the web site have been fixed, helping most people get covered doesn’t take long at all.
“From Thanksgiving until now it has been quick and easy,” Katie said. “The average time length for a single person with no dependents is half an hour. If you have dependents, it might take closer to an hour just because there are more people to enter.”
While Katie can actually enter people’s information in the web site and help them purchase coverage, other workers in Nebraska known as Certified Application Counselors (CAC’s) are available to help people compare plans and pricing at health clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices to get people signed up.
To become a Navigator, Katie had to undergo rigorous training and take more than 25 tests to ensure she would be able to inform people about their different insurance options. She even used the Marketplace herself to find coverage for her young daughter.
She encouraged people who are unsure about the cost of coverage to just browse options on the web site. Most people have been surprised about just how affordable a good plan can be, she said.
“A lot of people who make under 250 percent of the federal poverty level (about $30,000) can get plans with deductibles under $200 a year,” Katie said. “I encourage you just to get on the web site and click around, compare. Nothing is final until you buy a plan and send in your payment. For young people, this website is totally easy to navigate. It’s probably more simple than setting up a Facebook account. The most difficult part is being familiar with insurance when it comes to choosing a plan.”
When it comes time to compare plans, Navigators and CAC’s can help people understand the language of insurance, terms like “premiums,” “deductibles,” and “co-pays” that someone who has not bought insurance before might not be familiar with.
Katie said one of the best parts of her job is telling people about the new consumer benefits all of the plans sold through the Marketplace must have. People cannot be denied by pre-existing conditions which has been a life-saver for people who previously had been denied coverage or were only offered very expensive plans.
Katie remembers one family where the mother had several chronic health problems. The father and two children went uninsured just so the family could afford a plan for the mother that cost about $20,000 a year.
Through the Marketplace, Katie helped the family find insurance for the parents that cost a total of $25 per month.
“They were elated,” Katie said.
Even young people without chronic health conditions need insurance. Katie told us about a friend of hers who went to college in Colorado. Walking down the street one day, her friend jumped in the air, and when she came down, she broke her leg in several places.
Her friend, who had no insurance, needed surgery and extensive rehabilitation which left her with a $35,000 medical bill. Having insurance could have prevented that deep financial hole.
The majority of Nebraskans who buy coverage through the Marketplace will qualify for tax credits that make their monthly premiums very affordable. The best way to find out is go online to HealthCare.gov and compare plans.
Or you can always go talk to a Navigator like Katie.
“A lot of what I deal with is just dispelling the rumors,” Katie said. “‘Am I being fined? Will my insurance at work go through the roof?’ Just a lot of crazy rumors. There has been a lot of fear. But, after they come talk to me it’s like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.”