WDAY.com |

North Dakota's #1 news website 10,650,498 page views — March 2014

Published October 02, 2013, 02:51 PM

Navigator: Some in ND 'ecstatic' over health insurance

BISMARCK — Donene Feist has adopted a shoe company's trademark slogan in her effort to help people get insurance through the nation's new health care law.

By: Associated Press , INFORUM

BISMARCK — Donene Feist has adopted a shoe company's trademark slogan in her effort to help people get insurance through the nation's new health care law.

"I feel like I should be in a Nike commercial," Feist said Wednesday. "Just do it.'"

Feist is among North Dakota's 17 so-called navigators whose job is to find uninsured residents and inform them of their options under the Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.

The certified health guides are meeting with people individually or with groups at town hall meetings, encouraging them to enroll in the online marketplaces that opened Tuesday, where consumers can compare plans and buy health insurance.

"We're out there pounding the pavement as much as we can," said Feist, who also is the executive director of Family Voices of North Dakota, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Edgeley, in the southeastern part of the state. "There are those out there who are very much interested in having health insurance. Some are ecstatic."

But many people are simply confused by the new law and are looking for answers, she said.

"There's just too much misinformation out there," Feist said.

North Dakota is one of 36 states where the federal government is running the marketplaces, which also are known as exchanges. Enrollment in the marketplaces began Tuesday, but a mixture of heavy demand and technical kinks overwhelmed the system.

Feist said she — like many North Dakota residents and thousands of others around the U.S. — was unable to access the federal website HealthCare.gov on Tuesday; she also was greeted with error messages on Wednesday morning.

"I've been unable to get in, and if I could have that would be great," she said. "For those who got in, they said it was easy to follow."

Feist said there are other glitches affecting navigators, including brochures and other education material on the Affordable Care Act that have been promised by the federal government but have not arrived. If problems with the online sign-ups persist, Feist said she is prepared to print paper applications.

Neil Scharpe, who is heading the navigator program in North Dakota, likened the enrollment debut to the opening of a much anticipated restaurant.

"Everybody comes at one time in the beginning when it opens," he said.

A steady rollout actually is preferred over a crush of people signing up at once, Scharpe said.

"We don't want the flood gates to open," he said.

Dec. 15 is the deadline for coverage to start Jan. 1. Customers have until the end of March to sign up in order to avoid tax penalties.

Scharpe and Feist said there is no way for navigators to track the number of North Dakota residents who will enroll in the online system. An estimated 74,700 North Dakota residents are uninsured, more than 10 percent of the state's population.

Feist believes the glitches in the online enrollment are spurred in part by a surge in demand for those seeking insurance.

"There are a lot of people mad about this law," Feist said, referring to the government shutdown led by congressional Republicans who want to block the health care reform. "But if this law is really a bad thing, then why are people overloading the system?"