If you're looking for help buying or renewing health insurance on the federal marketplace, add Carolinas HealthCare System to the list of options. There's a new enrollment center at the site of a former ABC store at Morehead Street and Kings Drive.
Dr. Roger Ray, chief physician executive for CHS, said the system is learning along with the patients. And one of the big lessons from Year 1 of the Affordable Care Act is that not all insurance is good insurance.
Too often, he and other CHS officials say, low-income customers who got subsidies on the exchange used them to buy low-cost, low-benefit bronze plans. They ended up paying little or nothing in monthly premiums, but had such high deductibles that they avoided going to the doctor, or went and incurred bills they couldn't pay.
"We find them newly interested and newly confused," Ray says of patients who have little experience with health insurance. "We need them to have access to the right care. Ultimately we want them to do well."
CHS chose the site in hopes of attracting walk-ins, as well as about 1,000 patients who have been encouraged to come for help. And the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation is providing money to supplement government subsidies so that some low-income patients can pay nothing for their premiums. The goal is to get them to choose a better plan, with government aid covering all or most of their out-of-pocket costs. To be eligible for that aid, people have to fall between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level -- $11,760 to $29,175 for one person, $19,790 to $49,475 for a family of three.
Brokers from Dexter Insurance Associates and Group Benefit Services staff the CHS center to help customers select a plan.
The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The CHS marketplace hotline, 866-412-0000, takes calls from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.
Novant Health doesn't have an enrollment center or provide financial assistance to supplement the tax credits, but it is helping patients check their eligibility for ACA coverage. Click here for more information, call 704-384-0539 to speak to a Novant counselor or attend an enrollment event in January and February.
If you want coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, though, remember that you have to make your selection by Dec. 15 and pay your first premium by Dec. 31. That applies to first-timers on the exchange as well as people who have a 2014 policy but want to make changes.