Navigating healthcare insurance to your advantage

There are complaints and concerns about Obamacare, but there's also free help in finding healthcare, and saving money.

New York State's Health Department says that as of Monday morning, close to 330-thousand New Yorkers have signed up for health insurance through the NY State of Health website, but while the information report says the rates on the Marketplace are 53% lower than rates in effect last year for comparable coverage, we are getting complaints from people who say they're paying a lot more.

Steve Wood, ACR Health Community Health Coordinator (who supervises health navigators in 9 Central New York counties), says there are several places where people who try to navigate the system themselves can go wrong. Some examples:

~The top of the enrollment website asks if you want help in paying for insurance. If you check the 'no' box, you never see the tax incentives, discounts and more that could apply to you.

~If you were notified your policy was cancelled and you were offered an alternative, your insurance company may not have told you about cost saving that could have been available.

~If you have children, it is worth looking at taking them off your health policy and enrolling them in Child Health Plus, instead

~Not enrolling and paying the penalty may not be a wise choice: it's $95 OR 1% or your income, which can add up. And, even though you could still get insurance if there's a major illness, that insurance (unless it's Medicaid) is not retroactive, so you could still be stuck with big bills.

Wood says that i you're not happy with a plan you signed up for, or are finding that the insurance does not cover what you expected, you can change plans, though he suggests using a Navigator to help, because they work the websites, and the local insurance options daily, and are more familar with what's available.

There are deadlines for enrollment coming up:

February 15 for coverage to start March 1

March 15 for coverage to start April 1

March 31 is the end of open enrollment, and you'd pay a penalty afterwards

(you can enroll with no penalty and no time deadline if affected by a life changing event--job loss, divorce, etc)

One more piece of advice: if you plan to sign up, don't wait til the last minute, because Navigators, and the website, are likely to see more traffic, which equals more delays for you.