Mid-Columbia residents signing up for insurance at a healthy pace

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 26, 2014 

CAC Insurance Navigators

Volunteer navigator Dan Herborn, left, and in-person navigator Anna Dorton help Corina Camacho, right, 23, of Kennewick renew her health insurance coverage Friday morning at the Community Action Connections facility in Pasco.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— Priscilla Sanchez had some spare moments Friday morning -- something that hasn't happened all that much since she became a navigator and in-person assister charged with providing free help to Tri-Citians enrolling in health coverage.

Often, she and her co-workers based at Community Action Connections in Pasco are booked up. Sanchez personally has assisted with more than 130 applications.

"I've been happy to help," said Sanchez, who started Dec. 1. "I'm happy that I am part of this."

About four months into the new health care world, Washington has signed up more people for coverage than most other states.

About 67,000 people purchased private health plans through the state exchange between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, and more than 167,000 people newly enrolled in free Medicaid coverage, according to a state report released last week.

Most of the those Medicaid enrollees were adults who became newly qualified for the program -- now called Apple Health in Washington -- under the state's federally funded Medicaid expansion.

Locally, 1,725 people in Benton and Franklin counties signed up for private insurance through the exchange and more than 7,600 became newly covered by Medicaid, according to the report.

While Washington has fared better than many states when it comes to enrollment, the system here hasn't been without kinks, from website issues to a tax-credit calculation error that affected about 8,000 applicants.

"There was a slow start in October and November because of technical difficulties -- a system coming online for the first time, some confusion about the process, some confusion about where to go. That's getting better, and with that people are becoming more comfortable with the system," said Wes Luckey, director of the Navigator In-Person Assister program for Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

The state's exchange launched Oct. 1, with open enrollment for buying private health plans that take effect this year ending March 31.

Medicaid enrollment is ongoing.

Luckey said he particularly wants to see younger, healthy people consider health coverage, even if they feel they can risk going without.

"People tend to underestimate the probability of risk. The probability you're going to end up in an accident or end up injured or with some sort of a disease is higher than you think," he said. "And people absolutely underestimate the cost of care."

Corina Camacho, 23, of Kennewick, had an appointment with a navigator at Community Action Connections on Friday morning.

She has health coverage through her job, but wanted to renew coverage through Apple Health for Kids for her two young sons. She tried to take care of it on her own but got stuck, prompting her to seek help from a navigator.

"We went in and they explained things more in-depth," she said, shortly after her appointment was done. It took less than an hour, she said.

To make an appointment with one of the navigators working at Community Action Connections, call 545-4042. Some other agencies and groups in the area, including Tri-Cities Community Health, also have navigators or in-person assisters available.

To check out the state's detailed enrollment report, go to www.tinyurl.com/healthnumbers.

-- Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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