Signing up for health insurance can be confusing, and the plans created in Kentucky under the Affordable Care Act are no exception.
But people signing up through the state program, Kynect, are getting an assist from 3,400 certified insurance agents trained to understand and work through the multiple offerings available through the new health care law, also called Obamacare.
The availability of certified insurance professionals is important because under the new health care law they are the only people who can suggest a specific plan, said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The act provides for training and funding for an army of people to educate the public. In Kentucky they are called Kynectors, navigators and assistors. They are trained and required to explain how various programs work but to stop short of endorsing a particular plan, she said.
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The important difference between navigators or assistors and certified agents is that certified agents can suggest a plan and actually log on to the web-based system and sign people up, Bond said. The site for Kentucky's health care plan is Kynect.Ky.Gov.
Under the Affordable Care Act, every American, with very few exceptions, is required to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Kentucky is one of 17 states that opted to create its own website and list of insurance offerings. Other states defaulted into using the federal exchange which has been rife with technical difficulties.
One of the options for states creating their own programs was including insurance agents and offering training to them, Bond said.
"From the beginning Kentucky felt it was important to include agents in the process. Insurance agents have a wealth of experience in helping clients choose an insurance plan for themselves, their families or their employees," she said.
Daryl Carlson, president-elect of the Central Kentucky Health Underwriters Association, said the training takes about eight to 10 hours and wasn't made available until Aug. 26. And, he said, even those with experience had a lot to learn. "This is a new process for almost everybody," he said. But training did a good job explaining how the process would work.
"I give a lot of credit to the Department of Insurance and I don't say that lightly," Carlson said. Creating the system has been a monumental task, but agents were involved in the process and helped shape how it was developed, he said.
People who will qualify for Medicaid, which is expanding in Kentucky to add families with higher incomes, probably don't need to consult an agent, he said. Their choices are limited because they are entering the government-run program.
But he recommends that other people and small business owners find a certified agent to help them determine which plan suits their needs.
Seeking advice is especially important for business owners, he said.
"There are so many variables," he said. "They really need someone who can make recommendations."
Sherry Wright, a consultant with Central Bank Insurance, was eager to take the training.
"We have been waiting for this for a long time."
Wright said consumers can be easily overwhelmed by the system and all the choices. An agent, she said, can be an advocate to make sure those applying for insurance have all the documentation they are going to need before beginning the application process.
People's insurance needs are as varied as the people themselves, she said, so she hopes people will seek out a certified agent to help them.
"There is no difference in the cost," she said. "Why not seek professionals with experience?"
How to find an agent
To find a certified agent in Kentucky, go to the state's official website, KyEnroll.Ky.Gov/General/AgentOrKynector. Information also is available at the National Association of Health Underwriters website, NAHU.org. To learn more about Kentucky's program overall, go to Kynect.Ky.Gov or call 1-855-459-6328.