Wood River assists residents with health plan enrollment; penalties return | Charlestown

Wood River assists residents with health plan enrollment; penalties return | Charlestown

HOPE VALLEY — Open health insurance enrollment for 2020 began on Nov. 1 and this year, Rhode Island, through the state health care exchange HealthSource RI, will require that all residents who are not eligible for Medicaid be covered.

“HealthSource RI helps keep health care costs low while ensuring that Rhode Islanders have access to high quality care,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “I urge Rhode Islanders to take time to explore HealthSource RI’s many coverage options this open enrollment.”

Wood River Health Services’ Community Resource Department employs health insurance navigators who help clients choose and sign up for health plans. Department director Jeffrey Venticinque said people who fail to sign up by the Dec. 31 deadline will face tax penalties.

“A big difference this year is going to be that the enforcement of the mandate has come back in the form of a tax penalty that we didn’t see for 2019; that has come from the state level,” he said. “If you have less than two months of insurance, you’re going to be penalized. What that’s going to look like is around $695, with an additional $347.50 per child under the age of 18 come tax time, or 2.5 percent of that household income.”

The tax penalty is a big change for people who have become accustomed to forgoing health insurance.

“Hopefully, the word is out for everybody in Rhode Island, because that’s not going to be a very fun surprise,” Ventincinque said.

HealthSource RI offers a tool that enables residents to compare health plans and provides assistance to people needing financial help in paying their premiums.

“I haven’t seen a big jump in premiums but the copayments have gone up with some plans slightly,” Ventincinque said. “Some of those paid plans, you’re not getting tax credits on and they’re a little bit more expensive, meaning that folks who are above that 400% of that federal poverty line get no assistance, meaning they have to pay full price for insurance, and those  folks as well as folks that aren’t eligible for some subsidies or some advance tax credits are maybe going to be paying a little more money.”

Wood River has on its staff four state-certified health insurance navigators.

“Beyond just working in person with somebody, one on one, we also can access somebody’s account with them present and without them having to remember their username or password, which is helpful,” Venticinque said. “We also can get into HealthSource through a dedicated phone line much quicker than someone might be able to do on their own.”

The deadline for enrollment is Dec.31, but Rhode Islanders are urged to sign up by Dec. 23 to avoid being caught without proof of insurance when the new plans take effect on Jan. 1.

November is a good time to make an appointment with a navigator before the last-minute rush in December. Wood River is also preparing to open a Westerly enrollment site at 11 Wells St., which will be staffed two days a week, and there will be a Wood River navigator available to clients of the Jonnycake Center.

“On Fridays, we’ll be having one of our navigators stationed at the Jonnycake Center as well to serve folks that might be coming in on a regular basis there that might have some issues,” Venticinque said. “Those appointments will only be through Jonnycake, so you have to be someone that’s engaged with the Jonnycake Center and signing up on a sign-up sheet while you’re there.”

Navigators will be available at Wood River five days a week, but appointments are filling up quickly. Enrollment fairs, staffed by HealthSource RI and health plan navigators, are also be taking place throughout the state, including two at the Westerly library on Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Dec. 16 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Appointments with Wood River navigators can be made by calling 401-539-2461.

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