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Lizzy Bolander, an Affordable Care Act navigator, helps Jesse Patterson, of Mitchell, fill out the paperwork needed to sign up for health insurance Nov. 8 at the James Valley Community Center in Mitchell. Patterson, who had been trying to enroll online, said the process was “amazingly simple” with Bolander's help. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Area Obamacare navigator: Many clients have never had insurance

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Obamacare questions

Lizzy Bolander can be reached by phone at (605) 487-7634 or email at lbolander@rocsinc.org to answer any questions that area consumers may have about the Affordable Care Act or the health insurance exchanges.

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LAKE ANDES — For the past three months, Lizzy Bolander has seen firsthand the impact of the nation’s new health care law.

In October, Bolander was hired to assist those seeking health insurance through the new federal exchanges created as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. She works for the Rural Office of Community Services in Lake Andes and serves a wide area of south-central South Dakota, including Davison County.

“Most of the people I see have never had insurance,” Bolander said in an interview Monday with The Daily Republic. “This is a great, positive thing for them because they’ve never had coverage before.”

Bolander estimated she has personally helped at least 50 people get health insurance through the new exchanges. It has been reported that more than 2,500 people in South Dakota and more than 1.1 million nationwide have signed up for health insurance through the exchanges.

“People have been giving wonderful feedback,” she said.

Healthcare.gov, the federal website through which people can apply for insurance, was fraught with problems when it launched in October. With a barely functional website, Bolander and other “navigators,” as they’re called, were stuck working with paper applications. Navigators are funded by federal grants.

“It was frustrating to not go on and sign people up right away,” she said. “But, it also gave me a chance to do outreach.”

Since Dec. 1, Bolander said, she has had no problems with healthcare.gov.

Bolander said she spends much of her time educating people about the new health care law.

“They just aren’t sure how it works until we sit down and talk about it,” she said.

The law includes subsidies, or financial assistance, for those people with low incomes, which is defined as 100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. The subsidies are meant to assist those people who otherwise could not comply with the law’s individual mandate, which requires those not covered by an employer’s health plan, or by Medicare, Medicaid or other public plans, to acquire coverage or face a financial penalty.

When a person applies for insurance through healthcare.gov, Bolander said, the first thing that is determined is if he or she qualifies for any of the financial assistance. After that, the person is presented with various coverage options in a range of prices, Bolander said.

“It is completely up to the consumer what they want,” she said.

Bolander said she loves her job, and loves being able to help people.

“When you see their reactions, their smiles, that tells you they’re excited.”

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