Navigating the health care waters -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected on March 31, 2014. An explanation follows.

Willa Dumbuya hadn’t had health insurance for two years.

On March 26, that finally changed — the Montgomery County Public Schools substitute teacher signed up for a health care plan she said is affordable.

“I’ll be able to get my physical, my mammogram, check my blood pressure, ‘cause I am 62 years old so all of that is important,” she said.

Dumbuya was one of about 28 people who showed up at the Montgomery County Education Association’s office in Rockville on March 26 to get help signing up for a health insurance plan through the Maryland Health Connection website.

The union-hosted event was targeted at a specific group in the county school system — substitute teachers and home and hospital teachers — who hold contingent, temporary positions and therefore do not receive health insurance through the school system, the union’s executive director Tom Israel said.

The school system has about 3,000 substitute teachers and about 130 home and hospital teachers, school system spokesman Dana Tofig said.

Two individuals from Maryland Health Connection answered questions and walked the teachers through the application process.

“We get forgotten a lot, and this is a really great opportunity, as you can see, without the long lines and [with] a great navigator and a great assister,” said Patricia Maloney, who teaches students online and at their homes.

The event took place only days before a March 31 deadline for Maryland residents who have not yet tried to sign up for insurance.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that more than 6 million people around the country had signed up for health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act through state and federal marketplaces.

Many in the state have faced glitches with the Maryland Health Connection website as they’ve tried to sign up for insurance.

Israel said the union wanted to provide information and aid to teachers who don’t receive health insurance from the school system.

“We assumed that there were any number of them who potentially might benefit,” Israel said.

Jane Laibstain, a navigator for Maryland Health Connection, spent the evening of March 26 solving issues from unconfirmed identities to finicky information fields.

“What I’ve noticed is that people are anxious when they get into the system and the system is very delicate,” she said.

Her job, Laibstain said, involves using her knowledge of the site’s various glitches and the supports she has available to fix problems that people are unable to solve on their own.

The union event allowed teachers to talk one-on-one with a navigator — an opportunity Laibstain said she has seen many miss.

Her Rockville office — one of many places around the county where people can go for help enrolling in an insurance plan — is overwhelmed with those looking for help.

“There is no one set of directions for this whole thing,” she said. “You just can’t do it.”

Matthew Ruggiero, who was filling out a manual application form during the event, said he has been a teacher for many years and is serving as a substitute in the school system until he finds a new job.

Ruggiero said he had been trying to switch to a new health care plan on the state website but ran into problems when he requested a new password.

He couldn’t get the problem solved online or by calling in for help, he said.

Ruggiero said he thinks the website is “very disorganized” and “very ineffective” and that he found the union event helpful though he was still not able to access his account online.

Robert Norton, who attended the event, said he entered an incorrect income amount on the first application he tried to submit and was therefore having trouble signing up a Medicaid plan.

“I was on the phone for about 80 minutes trying to find a solution to my problem,” he said.

Norton found his solution at the event — submitting a new application.

“The [navigator] helped me immensely,” he said.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story included a screen capture of a wrong website.