The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Helping people find coverage
Bill Botts has a bigger job than most lawyers would want to take on in their retirement.
He’s signed on to be the health care navigator—the person in charge of explaining the federal health insurance law and how people should get insurance under it —for Fredericksburg and a 16-county area.
Botts and 15 other navigators around the state will be the people to see if you need help understanding the new federal health insurance marketplace, or signing up for it after it opens Oct. 1.
More broadly, he and the other navigators are supposed to set up programs to help explain the new law and the new insurance marketplace.
In Virginia, the navigators are under the umbrella of a new group called ENROLL Virginia, which is handling the federal grant money that pays for Botts and the other navigators. ENROLL Virginia was created by the Virginia Poverty Law Center and legal aid programs in Virginia for the purpose of helping people figure out the new health law.
According to the 2012 Virginia Atlas of Community Health, the localities Botts covers contain almost 73,000 uninsured people. In 12 of his 17 jurisdictions, Botts said, more than 14 percent of the population is uninsured.
Botts spent his 38-year career as a legal aid attorney. He retired from Rappahannock Legal Services in 2011, having worked there since 1979.
His career in legal aid, which helps people who can’t afford lawyers, spurred his interest now in helping people get access to health care. He saw clients who worked, but couldn’t afford insurance, find their lives falling apart because of a health problem. For example, untreated health issues led to diabetes, which led to amputated limbs, which led to loss of jobs, homes and families, Botts said. A heart attack could bankrupt people.
“Poverty has a lot of contributing factors lack of health insurance is right up there,” Botts said. “I just saw over the years people’s lives harmed or even destroyed That’s why I think extension of health coverage is so important.”
He sees the new federal health care law as a “generational, historic piece of legislation.” Botts said he understands the law is politically controversial, but he feels his duty is to help his neighbor—and that helping people sign up for health insurance is a way to do that.
Botts’ job now as navigator isn’t to advocate for any one of the many health care plans that will be sold through the federal marketplace, nor to push people to use the marketplace.
Instead, Botts said, navigators are there to explain how the marketplace works, and to help guide people through the process of signing up.
People whose incomes are between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for insurance in the marketplace. This year, that was between $11,490 and $45,690 for an individual and $23,550 and $94,200 for a family of four. Those with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty level are eligible for other assistance with costs, but only if they buy a specific level of plan.
The rules are also different for small businesses.
Explaining it all will involve a lot of field work—with 17 localities to cover—and it’ll require help. Botts is training a few volunteer assistants, and he himself had to go through 20 hours of training, he said. Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up at a Monday community forum or by emailing Botts.
Navigators and their assistants won’t be the only ones trained to help people understand the insurance marketplace.
Some agencies and groups that serve populations likely to be uninsured or eligible for marketplace insurance have applied to train application counselors within their organization, and those people will also be able to help people sign up for new coverage.
So will insurance brokers who already sell insurance policies.
But, Botts predicts, the navigators “will wind up assisting those most in need of help.”
He has been in touch with various groups that serve low-income populations about working with them to enroll people.
Ideally, Botts said, he’ll be able to go, or send someone, to places like food banks or soup kitchens to help explain the marketplace to clients there, and help sign them up. He’ll have a laptop, a wireless card, hopefully a printer and a scanner, and expects he can walk even those who are least experienced with health insurance and the Internet through the application process. He might go to churches, he might have a table at area festivals, he might work with hospitals and clinics.
Botts already has scheduled one event—a community forum on the Affordable Care Act and the health insurance exchanges—for Monday night.
He has an office and an office phone number. There will soon be a statewide toll-free phone number, he said, that people can call and be routed to the navigator for their area.
Botts expects to be busy. The marketplace opens Oct. 1.
“I’m sure there will be a big demand in October, and we’ll just have to see how it goes,” he said.
Bill Botts and Dr. Chris Lillis will hold a community forum on
the Affordable Care Act and the Health Insurance Marketplace from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, in the theater at Central Rappahannock Regional Library, 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg.
To reach Botts:
c/ o Legal Services of Northern Virginia
500 Lafayette Blvd, Suite 140 (rear building entrance)
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Office fax: 540/374-9169
Office email: email@example.com
Office hours, beginning Oct. 1, are 9 a.m.–4 p.m., Monday–Thursday
A website and statewide phone number for ENROLL Virginia are pending.
Botts encourages people to visit healthcare.gov to review the information there and then gather necessary materials before making an appointment with him.
Also, a toll-free insurance marketplace helpline is available: 800/318-2596, TTY 855/889-4325.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028