Affordable Care Act navigators in Texoma push for public awarene - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

Affordable Care Act navigators in Texoma push for public awareness

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CHOCTAW COUNTY -- With a self-imposed deadline to fix the troubled website now two weeks away, navigators in Texoma for the Affordable Care Act say initial problems are improving.

In one of the more resistant states to the Act, they say they are trying to focus on educating consumers about the new law before it's too late.

Chad Austin is a navigator for the Affordable Care Act. He's based in Hugo but is overseeing the program's open enrollment period in 63 of Oklahoma's 77 counties.

"Overall we're pleased with the progress we've made," Austin said.

Austin works for the Little Dixie Community Action Agency which received a $580,733 federal grant to educate consumers about the new health care laws.

Since October 1, he says the agency, and its partners, have assisted 6,288 people.

Because of glitches on the Healthcare.gov website, he says many people have had to fill out paper applications making it difficult to determine how many people went on to successfully sign up.

"It was really the very last week of October and the first of November when we were able to go all the way through the online process," Austin said. "So, we are definitely leaning on that because when you get the online application, you get real time results."

Recently, Austin says he notified the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about a trend he and his partners are seeing.

Because the state of Oklahoma did not vote to expand Medicaid, Austin says many people he's tried to assist fall into a "gap," people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but don't make enough to qualify for federal subsidies which could've helped offset the cost of health care premiums.

Katie Maxey is a navigator coordinator for INCA Community Services and is helping consumers in Atoka, Johnston, Marshall and Murray counties.

"There has been a lot of negativity, a lot of people don't like it. However, it's the law," Maxey said.

Despite the pushback, she says her focus, like Austin's, remains on educating consumers about what's now required of them by law, like it or not.

"We want people to know, hey, we're not promoting this, we're not pushing this on you, we're just telling you that whether you like it or not, it's here and it could apply to you," Austin said.

The deadline to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace is March 31.

Austin says the penalty for not signing up is one percent of your income, or $95 per adult per year, whichever is higher.

The penalty increases to $325 per adult per year in 2015, and $695 per adult per year in 2016.