Why signing up for health insurance is a good investment

First published in Landings, September, 2016

Most people tend to put off their health care needs when they are not enrolled in health insurance. Having worked with lobstermen on signing up for health insurance over the past two years, I realize how much people compromise taking care of their health when they don’t have health insurance coverage.

Since the Affordable Care Act health insurance program began in 2013, the MLA has worked with more than 700 people on enrollment in affordable health insurance, serving a total of 11,400 households. In addition, the MLA Navigators have conducted education and outreach on how to use your health insurance through mailings, social media, articles, and presentations at industry events. MLA Navigators have also helped over 420 coastal Maine families in using their health insurance with assistance in finding treatment and health care providers.

The MLA has become a key resource for enrollment assistance within Maine’s lobstering community. The MLA uses a variety of tools to reach lobstermen and keep the industry informed on health insurance issues. First and foremost, MLA’s Navigators work flexible hours in order to assist lobstermen at times that work for them. Each month, I write an article about health insurance in

Landings, so that all Maine lobstermen have access to this information in the privacy of their home. We also regularly make presentations and attend meetings throughout the state in the coastal areas to keep lobstermen informed on health insurance. And importantly, we get a lot of inquiries from people who learn about our health insurance assistance through word of mouth.

One of our biggest successes in serving lobstermen along Maine’s 3,500 miles of coast has been the use of simple computer technology. MLA’s Navigators can help lobstermen shop for insurance and complete the online application for health insurance with the lobsterman never leaving his home. We use a simple but secure computer technology to connect a lobsterman’s computer to the MLA office. This allows the Navigator and the lobsterman shopping for health insur- ance to essentially work from the same computer, while based at different loca- tions. The result is that the MLA’s Navigator can “virtually” be in anyone’s home assisting with health insurance questions and enrollment, without leaving the office. This saves time and money, and allows a lot of flexibility in scheduling.

I really love my work helping people gain access to affordable health care. During the past open enrollment period, a lobsterman and his wife came to me looking for health insurance. At the start of our many conversations, his wife began crying tears of relief. Her husband and, as she liked to tell me, high school sweetheart had been diag- nosed with cancer just two weeks prior. They had not only been struggling with the notion that he had cancer but also with how they were going to pay for treatment, tests, specialist visits, and so much more. She had seen several of my articles in Landings regarding health insurance and gave me a call. I was able to sign them up for health insurance and help them find doctors to see soon. Today he is out lobstering and still getting his health back on track. What a great feeling to know that I was able to help them! I am truly blessed in my position at the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

MLA’s Navigators pride ourselves on keeping up to speed with all of the health insurance offerings in Maine. Before open enrollment each year, we meet with each insurer to learn plan options, changes, and new opportunities that are available to their customer base. MLA’s Navigators also take full advantage of the “window shopping tool” which allows us to help lobstermen and their families check out the costs and benefits of different health plans offered on the Marketplace. Many people have preconceived notions that having a quality health care plan is just too expensive. But in just a few minutes, these online tools help show you what options are available at what cost. Through this process, most lobstermen find that health insurance is attainable.

It can be hard to thread your way through the application process and to figure out which plan will cover your needs at the right price. But that’s what the Navigators are for! I’m really happy that so many lobstermen in the state have come to the MLA for help. I look forward to working with many more lobster- men in finding health insurance again this fall.