GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is an online insurance marketplace. That launches Oct. 1, but even before it was 'live,' Target 8 found a glitch that could affect West Michigan residents.
There is a part of healthcare.gov website does have a section called "How can I get help enrolling?" In that section, which is currently featured, there are several options for help, including online chatting and a toll free phone number.
There's also an option to find help near a specific city and state or zip code. Target 8 entered in the zip code of the WOOD TV8 studios -- 49503 -- to try to connect to people nearby who could help.
The website directed Grand Rapids' nearly 200,000 people to services in Grant, a city about an hour north with a population fewer than 900 people.
"We'll be able to actually guide consumers through the process of making that application if they require that assistance," said Vicki Kuhns, a certified application counselor and outreach and enrollment specialist who works for Baldwin Family Health Care.
The community health centers have offices in Grant, White Cloud, McBain, Baldwin and Cadillac.
Kuhns and her colleague Doug Gaybert were hired through grants to Baldwin Family Health Care. Their job is to help people in a four-county area through the new ACA process. They said they are not equipped to handle the demands of people in a city as large and as far away as Grand Rapids.
Target 8 asked Gaybert and Kuhns if they were surprised by the hiccup. Neither seemed to be shocked.
"There will be glitches," said Gaybert.
But he went on to say he thinks it will be worth it.
"I think glitches and all, people will be impressed with this," he said.
"I guess I'm not terribly surprised," said Kuhns. "There is a registration process. It is startup. Whenever you're talking about in America, we're trying to start up this program, so surely there will be glitches in the system."
Gaybert and Kuhns said they are excited to talk with people who will be able to afford insurance for the first time.
Another glitch Target 8 found, in addition to not sending people to the closest help, was that healthcare.gov listed the wrong address for the Baldwin Family Health Center. It said the center was on North Street rather than its actual location on North Maple Street.
The community health center was also listed as being in the nonexistent city of Gant rather than the actual city of Grant. And the website has an option to 'map,' or get directions to the Baldwin Family Health Center, but when clicking on that option, Google maps cannot find directions to the center.
The good news is that there are resources available in Grand Rapids, including the Heart of the City Health Center, run by Cherry Street Health Services, in the 49503 zip code.
"Over the phone we can say some things, but we want them to come in so we can help them sort through how they can navigate this," Mike Reagan, Chief External Relations Officer for Cherry Street Health Services, said. "And to help them get enrolled to see what they're eligible for."
Reagan said the center has been preparing for this for months, and he said is actually a regional navigator. He said it has more resources to help people in West Michigan.
When Target 8 told Reagan about the search results, he replied, "Wow, all right. Well, that's gotta get corrected."
Target 8 got a federal government representative on the phone Thursday. She said it's not really an error on the site, since the website, phone number and email address are correct. It's only the physical address that is wrong.
She also pointed out the government plans to keep updating the site through this Monday, Sept. 30.
When asked if he was concerned people might not realize the services Cherry street offers, Reagan replied, "That is concerning, and were going to have to address it. It's helpful that when people are experiencing problems, they feel free to call the 800 number and say, 'Hey did you know?' so we can be responsive to make sure we have other points available for them."
Experts at both sites stressed that people who are considering looking on the insurance exchange when it opens Tuesday should have some things together, including a W-2 tax form, the names and policy numbers of any existing insurance policies, and their social security number.
Cherry Street a Health services does have a toll free number, 866.299.1349,specifically for questions about the Affordable Care Act. People can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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