The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 27, 2014

ACA signup pays off for some

By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News

— DANVILLE — Valley residents have been signing up for the Affordable Care Act, and some have reaped greater benefits than they were expecting.

“This plan is just as good if not better than what I had,” said Christopher Hilkert, of Winfield. Hilkert signed up for a new plan at an open forum held March 20 at Geisinger Medical Center, where members of Geisinger’s Trusted Advisor team helped guide visitors through the process of choosing and applying for a new healthcare plan on the healthcare.gov website. Geisinger held a similar forum Thursday.

Hilkert was paying $1,800 a month for a Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan that covered himself, his wife and his two children. Through his new Geisinger Health Plan policy bought on the government’s healthcare exchange, though, he now pays $650 a month for himself and his family’s coverage.

“I get to keep all my same doctors and still have the choice of clinics and hospitals I want to go to,” he said.

In addition, his maximum out of pocket cost for the new plan is $1,500, compared to $4,000 on the old plan.

Going into the sign-up process, Hilkert was expecting high premium costs and other problems. “It was not at all what I was expecting,” he said.

Geisinger showed him several plans outside of their own, Hilkert said, and never guided him specifically toward their insurance.

“I think the entire process took about an hour and 20 minutes. I was there longer because I was reviewing the different plans that were available,” Hilkert said.

Lori Dressler, of McAlisterville, went through the sign-up process on March 27 with the help of Geisinger’s Trusted Advisor program. She and her husband are self-employed, out of McAlisterville’s Dan’s Restoration. She was persuaded to find a better insurance deal after she saw the medical bills for her father’s recent heart surgery.

She also wanted to make sure she got coverage for her daughter, who will need the insurance when she starts playing field hockey for Bucknell University in the fall.

“There are more affordable options than I would have expected,” said Dressler, while she was in the middle of the application process. She started with 53 plans available to her, which were narrowed down with the help of certified application counselor Gail Carr.

Like Hilkert, she wasn’t pushed toward any particular policy by Geisinger.

“They helped me make up my own mind,” she said.

Geisinger’s Trusted Advisor program has helped about 1,000 people system-wide sign up for the ACA, according to Ellie Middleton, a certified account counselor for Geisinger’s Trusted Advisor program. Turnout was steady on both days of the forum, Middleton said.

The online sign-up process for the ACA is now much smoother than it was when the website first went live in the fall, Middleton said, though there are still occasional hiccups. Some of them are due to the recent volume of traffic to the website in the last few days due to an impending deadline.

The deadline for sign-ups for the ACA was March 31, but people who have begun the application process now have until mid-April to finish.

People still seeking help with the sign-up process can call the Trusted Advisor program at 855-849-1510.

Another open enrollment period for the ACA will start later this year and run from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, 2015.

Email comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.