Health insurance exchange begins 2015 open enrollment

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COLUMBIA - Starting Saturday, November 15, some mid-Missourians will join millions of other Americans in buying health insurance for 2015 or renewing their existing plan on the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange markets.

Currently, 37 states use the federal health care exchange,, while the other thirteen and the District of Columbia run their own websites. launched in lackluster fashion last year, as it crashed over-and-over again due to an unexpectedly high amount of traffic. As the website gets set to launch again, it will take more than just the website functioning to ensure this year's success. The program's "navigators", or counselors, also enter their second year, and navigator entities said they are ready to serve would-be buyers. 

"We believe that we were chosen for a second year in a year because we do have a very good network established throughout the state," said Catherine Edwards, executive director of the Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging (MA4). "I think because of our outreach capability, and our track record of impartial assistance made us a strong candidate."

MA4, one of 94 navigator organizations in the state, currently employees 83 navigators. Of those, 60 are fully trained and licensed. 

"Those 60 will be available, beginning tomorrow, for in-person assistance and will be working at these enrollment events," said Edwards. She also said the other thirteen navigators are "in process" and will be "on-line very soon."

The Affordable Care Act requires about 20 hours of online training for a person to use the title of "navigator" and assist customers in choosing a health care plan under the federal health care exchange.

"What some people don't realize is in addition there is weekly technical assistance through webinars," Edwards said. "Also, every month the navigator and their representatives attend local meetings. We meet with them monthly on a state-wide basis to share updates, more information, if there is some new glitch how to deal with it. There is constant learning going on."

In addition to this training, a Missouri law passed last year requires a navigator to be licensed by the state. Navigators must also re-certify at the federal level each year, according to Edwards.

Republicans in Congress made the Affordable Care Act a key point during the mid-term elections, vowing to repeal the policy. 

"My job is to listen to the American people," said Speaker of the House John Boehner. "The American people have made it clear they are not for Obamacare."

Boehner added "the House, I am sure, will move next year to repeal Obamacare," saying the act should be repealed and replaced with "common sense reforms."

"What people may not think about a lot is that this is not a government program," Edwards said. "These are private health insurance plans people are getting enrolled in."

In regard to potential changes to Obamacare, Edwards said there is no plan to adapt because navigators have no idea what might happen.