By Sydney Yalshevec

Kimball hospital deals with low health care enrollment numbers


Sydney Yalshevec

The hospital will still assist residents in signing up during open enrollment.

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) started on October 1, 2013. Since it's inception the ACA has experienced scrutiny and difficulty. The website alone was faulty and glitch filled until a mere few weeks ago. Nationally the interest in the open enrollment wained after many people experienced trouble with the site. Kimball was no exception to that.

Ken Hunter, CEO of the Kimball Health Services confirmed that little interest was shown in ACA enrollment, especially after the many issues encountered. In fact, the hospital was supposed to have at least three people trained to be navigators by CAPWN, the federally granted navigator to the area.

However, people are still uninsured and show little to no interest in signing up for the ACA so the navigator training has been put off.

"We saw a whole lot of interest while the site wasn't working and virtually no interest since it started working. What we have seen is that the people that are uninsured, yet eligible for the Affordable Care Act and, frankly, required by the ACA, still can't afford it. So they're still uninsured," Hunter said.

In a county of about 3,800 people, 20 percent of those people are uninsured. According to Hunter, there have only been about 400 ACA enrollments in the panhandle. That small number mirrors the national enrollment numbers. As of January 24, 2014, only 3 million people had signed up for insurance though the ACA.

"I think it's been a huge problem for the thing not to kick off right. We had a lot of people with interest, and they'd come in and we'd try to help them fill out the stuff online but it wasn't working. And I don't even hear much talk about it now around here," Hunter said.

While many people are not enrolling in the ACA due to political convictions, others aren't enrolling, because they can't afford the plans offered. Even if a person opts out to pay the penalty for not enrolling, it's still costly. The penalty for a single person with a year's income of $19,500 is 95 dollars. However, the fees rack up quickly if a person is married, has children, or makes more money yearly. 2014 will have the cheapest penalty, and it is estimated that in 2038 penalty fees could reach $800.

Still, some people might not be enrolling simply because they don't know how, or they tried when the website was experiencing glitches. In those cases, the hospital has offered their assistance.

"They can call here to the hospital, and we will assist them to enroll. We will literally take them through the whole process. It takes about an hour, but they need to have all their information," Hunter said.

However, a lot of the time the people who come in to enroll will forget some vital information concerning their health history. This prolongs the process due to having to go back and forth getting information. Thankfully, the hospital has it set up so that the person wanting to enroll can fill out a form and then a navigator from CAPWN in Scottsbluff will call and fill the form out by asking for the information.

"CAPWN wanted to set up a day where they would come in here and set up and let the community come to them, and they would just stay all day and help people sign up," Stephanie Pederson, Executive Assistant at Kimball Health Services, said.

This would allow the community access to a navigator that could answer questions and get people signed up for insurance.

The hospital is rather supportive of people enrolling in the ACA because if people get insured, the hospital gets paid and then they can provide Kimball with better service.

"I think the thing to emphasize is, I think that people think that someone else picks up the bill if they're not able to pay for their health care, and that's not true. This hospital here in this county just takes it on the chin," Hunter said.

The hospital offers aid in paying. People in non-emergency situations can fill out forms requesting charitable care. There are also payment plans available. However, in emergency situations the hospital doesn't discriminate or waste time with paper work. This means that care offered won't get paid for if a person is uninsured.

Hunter showed optimism concerning the ACA. Although it had a bumpy start, he said it would be beneficial to hospitals.

"We're in pretty good shape right now but hospitals nationwide are struggling. This could easily bring half a million dollars to our bottom line maybe a million, if the ACA as it was intended then it would eliminate most of our areas of financial concern. The way it stands right now if everyone in Kimball County would register that is required to, that could have a very positive effect on us and it would put us from a very gray area into a very positive area," Hunter said.

In the nation 25 percent of those who have enrolled are 18-34 years old, 54 percent are women, 60 percent have chosen the silver plan, and 20 percent have chosen the bronze plan. Many people are saying that the ACA was dependent upon young and healthy people signing up as well. However, most don't see a benefit from the ACA, if it doesn't appear helpful to them directly.

"Where I do see the ACA working the most is in small businesses that otherwise couldn't afford to provide coverage. Self employed people, farmers should really consider the ACA, because I think they'd do very well with it," Hunter said.

The hope is that as the enrollment deadline approaches, more people sign up and take part. The more insured people the hospital serves the more money it will make and then they'll be able to provide better healthcare. Eventually they want to be able to accept emergency cases, instead of having to transfer them.

The enrollment deadline for the Affordable Healthcare Act is March 31.


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