Library will host healthcare workshops

TUPPER LAKE – Help is available for those seeking healthcare in the North Country.

On Thursday, about 20 people attended a workshop at the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library to learn how to navigate the New York State of Health insurance enrollment website.

The workshop was sponsored by the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and was the first of several opportunities for people to get assistance with healthcare enrollment at the library. Starting Tuesday, Courtnie Toms, deputy director of Massena Independent Living Center Inc., will be there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide free in-person, one-on-one advice and navigation of the new federal health care reform and health insurance requirements. Toms will also be at the library on Dec. 3 and Dec. 17.

Jill Rock, education and outreach specialist for the Adirondack Health Institute, led Thursday’s workshop with the help of Sandy Duquette, health insurance administrator for the North Country Chamber of Commerce.

Rock is an insurance navigator and Duquette is an insurance broker. Rock explained that both offer free help with signing up for health insurance, but a broker can sell insurance.

According to Rock, 2.7 million New Yorkers are uninsured, and half of those work full-time jobs.

Duquette said she has led about 10 workshops recently, and that people are most concerned with what insurance plans are available and how much they will cost. She’s also said she’s been getting about 50 emails a day from people asking for help.

“Basically, when people come to me, they have no idea what’s going on,” Duquette said. “It’s not consumer friendly, and people don’t understand. That’s the problem, and things keep changing, so the challenge for all the brokers is to learn, relearn and keep learning.”

Duquette’s comments were especially appropriate on Thursday. About an hour before the workshop began, President Barack Obama announced in a press conference that people would be able to keep their insurance if they were happy with it.

The announcement followed intense pressure from consumers as well as from congressional Democrats. Obama said the administration would no longer require insurance companies to scrap current individual and small group plans that don’t meet minimum coverage standards under the law.

According to Duquette, the biggest issue is not Obama’s broken promise; it’s the seemingly ill-planned website.

“With all these problems, the rate of people enrolling will have to be high to get everyone enrolled by Dec. 15,” Duquette said. “If the website crashes, what are they going to do?”

The deadline for open enrollment is March 31, but those who sign up by Dec. 15 will have coverage beginning Jan. 1.

The Affordable Health Care Act’s cumbersome rollout aside, Duquette said insurance won’t change much for New Yorkers. If anything, Duquette said it’s actually an improvement on New York’s already satisfactory health care options.

“What they’re offering is a guarantee that you can’t be denied coverage, and that there are ways to afford insuring your entire family,” Duquette said. “Just think about what your needs are, figure out if you’re eligible for any tax credits, and go from there.”

To schedule a meeting time for an upcoming Tuesday session, contact Courtnie Toms at 518-483-2151 or 315-764-9442.

The free sessions will include information, assistance with understanding the law requirements, assistance with screening for health insurance eligibility, assistance with applying for public and private health insurances, and understanding the tax credits and penalties associated with the Affordable Health Care Act.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or