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Health care: Hospital pushes to enroll the uninsured

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

For people without health insurance coverage, one word describes the landscape: confusion.

‘The biggest thing we are hearing from the community,” said Linda Bonesteel, director of the Georgetown Community Care Network, “is there is some level of confusion over just who is eligible. People say, ‘I’m working as a waiter or a waitress in one of the restaurants up and down Highway 17. Can I get health insurance?’ The answer to that is yes. Others say, ‘I’m currently not working at all. I’m a single person. I don’t have any income coming in. Am I eligible?’ Often the answer to that is no.

“Medicaid was not expanded in South Carolina. What seems like a simple question has a lot of if-then-that answers.”

More than 41,000 South Carolinians have selected a health insurance plan through the federal government’s Health Insurance Marketplace. However, there are an estimated 700,000 South Carolinians without health insurance, according to Bruce Bailey, Georgetown Hospital System president and CEO.

“At Georgetown Hospital System, we see firsthand the difference quality, affordable health insurance makes in people’s lives,” Bailey said. “People who have health insurance are more likely to receive valuable preventive care, as well as treatment for serious chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Waccamaw Community Hospital will host the last of its series of free enrollment fairs on Friday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. GHS partner Little River Medical Center will host an enrollment fair March 6 at the Socastee Public Library on Highway 707 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The fairs provide an opportunity to talk with a certified application counselor who can guide someone seeking insurance through the enrollment process.

“It is their application, their process,” Bonesteel said. “We are not the people deciding if they are eligible.”

Amy Stevens, associate vice president for marketing and communications for Georgetown Hospital System, said open enrollment has been extended through March 31.

“There’s been a lot of misperception that it’s going to cover everybody,” she said.

Those who are uninsured and make between $11,490 and $45,960 a year ($23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four), will likely be eligible for premium assistance and/or subsidies to help purchase private insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace. There are more than 200,000 uninsured South Carolinians making below $11,490 a year who will be left out of any coverage or coverage assistance through the Affordable Care Act because South Carolina has not extended coverage through Medicaid expansion.

Those with a pre-existing condition can no longer be denied coverage, nor can it be cancelled because of sickness. Higher premiums based on gender or medical history and annual or lifetime limits on coverage are no longer permitted. Young adults can stay on a parent’s health insurance policy until age 26.

The hospital will continue to assist people with questions about their eligibility once the free fairs are completed. People are being encouraged to call dedicated numbers at Georgetown Hospital System, 843-520-8202; Little River Medical Center, 843-663-8090; or St. James-Santee Family Health Center in Georgetown, 843-826-6989. Those seeking a one-on-one visit are being encouraged to make an appointment with an eligibility counselor at St. James-Santee Family Health Center or Little River Medical Center.

“Eligibility is on a case-by-case basis,” Stevens said. “The phone numbers are available to people who have questions.”

In addition to using Georgetown Hospital System, consumers may shop for and compare the coverage of various health plans in the marketplace by visiting healthcare.gov or calling 800-318-2596.

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