A new helpline for uninsured West Virginians will assist callers in navigating the health insurance marketplace during open enrollment, which began this week and continues through Jan. 31.
The helpline, 1-844-WVCARES, is a grant-funded project of First Choice Health Systems, a West Virginia-based company that runs programs like the 1-800-GAMBLER helpline and the recently launched 844-HELP4WV, the first statewide 24-hour substance abuse and mental health call line.
The call line, which is staffed by certified health insurance navigators equipped to answer questions, assist with enrollment and schedule one-on-one appointments, is part of First Choice’s new WV Navicare Program, created through a cooperative agreement with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and designed to assist uninsured West Virginians in signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace.
“Our phones were ringing off the hook [Monday],” said Jeremy Smith, outreach coordinator and trained navigator for First Choice. “We’ve been able to help a lot of people already.”
Smith said First Choice has hired four full-time employees to serve as navigators, and has certified 11 existing staff members to assist with the program. The need for a program like Navicare became apparent after the launch of West Virginia’s drug abuse hotline, Smith said — many of the callers seeking help were uninsured and didn’t know how to obtain insurance.
“They found that a lot of the people calling in didn’t have health insurance,” he said. “That was their No. 1 barrier to getting the treatment they needed, so [First Choice] decided to apply for the Affordable Care Act Navigator Grant. We’re really excited to start the work that will help all West Virginians.”
Although First Choice is based in Charleston, the Navicare Program plans to send navigators to other cities, including Huntington, Parkersburg and Beckley, once a week to provide in-person assistance for those who are uninsured, whether they qualify for Medicaid or need help selecting a private insurance plan.
“The population we’re reaching out to is all over the map,” Smith said. “It’s really for anybody who doesn’t have health insurance, for one reason or another.”
The WV Navicare Program will hold several in-person assister events, including an event in Charleston between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday at the Bureau for Senior Services offices in the Charleston Town Center Mall, as well as a Monday event in Huntington at the Marshall University Student Center.
For more information on WV Navicare, including a full list of in-person events, frequently asked questions and other resources, visit www.wvnavicare.com. To sign up for individual health insurance coverage through the federal government’s health insurance exchange, visit www.healthcare.gov.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.