Call Hours Expanded For Insurance Open Enrollment

SNOW HILL – The Lower Shore Health Insurance Assistance Program has begun the open enrollment period for private health insurance plans.

From Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, residents of Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties will be able to select qualifying health plans from the assistance program.

Worcester County Health Department Prevention Coordinator Kat Gunby said the program offers trained navigators to help citizens get the insurance they need.

“These navigators were trained through the Maryland Health Connection and have been an avenue for outreach and navigation,” she said. “Each year, they have allowed the uninsured rate to go down on the Lower Shore.”

Prior to these navigators, Gunby said residents were responsible for finding insurance on the Maryland Health Connection website. But flaws within the system lowered the success rate for signing up residents.

In the summer of 2014, program officials decided to have a reachable consumer assistance program.

With the help of grant money, the tri-county area has received assistance through the 2017 fiscal year and possibly up to six years.

“Navigators saved the day,” she said. “They manually signed people up and took them off of a faulty system. But in the second and third year, the website got better.”

Program Coordinator Janki Patel said residents of the tri-county area have the option of two carriers in this location, CareFirst Blue Choice and Evergreen.

These navigators take calls from residents and help them select and apply for health insurance that fits their needs and discuss eligibility for tax credits.

Gunby said anyone without employee-sponsored insurance or insurance that costs more than nine percent of their income is eligible for a credit. Those not eligible can still use the program to shop for insurance and receive an in-person appointment.

Those seeking coverage by Jan. 1 must meet the Dec. 15 deadline, according to Gunby, who recommends making appointments early.

Anyone who does not need coverage until after Jan. 1 can make an appointment after the Dec. 15 deadline.

To accommodate these deadlines, the program’s call center will now extend its hours to accept more calls.

The call center will now be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and closed on Sundays and holidays.

“You are going to get someone experienced,” Gunby said. “Most of these navigators have been there from the beginning and they are experts. They see you from beginning to end.”

The assistance program is administered through the Worcester County Health Department and funded through a grant from the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, a state-based insurance marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act.

Patel said residents can call the state program to be directed to Lower Shore assistance, but recommends calling the local program directly for faster service.

Lower Shore Health also provides a list of open enrollment fairs, eligibility charts and tax credit calculators on its website at lowershorehealth.org.

To contact the program, call 1-855-445-5540 or its Snow Hill office at 410-632-9230.