Cumberland health education organization aims to help Marylanders understand health insurance options


CUMBERLAND, Md. (WDVM) — As open enrollment for health insurance started on November 1st, many might not know what they qualify for or that they can receive financial help to lower premium costs. A health education center located in Cumberland, Maryland is aiming to help western Marylanders get coverage.

These past 18 months have shown us the importance of health insurance. For many, there may be confusion as to what they qualify for or the cost. The Area Health Education Center, or AHEC, West is a non-profit organization in western Maryland that is providing just such answers.

David Stewart is the Health Insurance Program Director at AHEC West who cannot stress the importance enough to residents in western Maryland and across the rest of the state. He explained that there are common misconceptions or unknowns when people work with AHEC West to register for health insurance.

“The mission of AHEC is to improve access to health care and to improve the quality of health care and to help people understand their health insurance options and to help people enroll,” Stewart explained. “Now what most people don’t understand is there actually is financial help available to lower the premium cost.”

Stewart explained that one of the most important parts of health insurance is that it comes with a benefit called an out-of-pocket maximum. An out-of-pocket maximum is a limit to how much money you can owe for medical expenses like a hospital stay or surgery. Stewart explained that if you choose to go without health insurance, you are agreeing to pay for every single expense you incur meaning that if you have an emergency, there is no limit to what you can owe.

“Health insurance protects you and it is about getting the health care that you need,” Stewart explained. “But it’s also about limiting your financial exposure.”

“In the event of an emergency, maybe they can get a Bronze plan for $3 or $4 a month. I promise you most people spend more on coffee in a month.”

David Stewart explaining the importance of investing in your health care coverage.

Alongside their other health education programs, AHEC West provides navigators to help consumers better understand the realm of health insurance specifically with Maryland Health Connection which is part of the Affordable Care Act. AHEC West works with Maryland Health Connection to lower the rates for uninsured Marylanders in Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties.

Stewart also went on to explain that many residents do not know they are able to receive financial assistance for their health insurance and that there is extra help for young adults. He explained that over the last year, new, increased financial help was introduced through the Young Adult Subsidy. For this upcoming year of healthcare enrollment, adults between the ages of 18 and 34 will qualify for more financial health benefits than in years past.

He also stressed that all of the services provided by AHEC West are free and there is no obligation for residents to pay for the services and consultations. Stewart says the first step towards getting health insurance is to call AHEC West to see exactly what your options are.

“All of our services are free. Most people make the mistake of assuming that they’re not going to get any financial help to get insurance and it’s just not the case,” Stewart explained.

Carol Morgan is a navigator at AHEC West and walks residents through their options and the registration process. She believes that everyone, especially young people, should have some sort of health insurance.

“We’re here to assist them and give them information. So it’s worth the phone call,” Morgan said.

She stressed that health insurance is not a one-size-fits-all approach. She explained that coverage can vary based on their demographics like their age, location, and income.

“You can’t go by, ‘Well, my neighbor or my friend told me this’ because each application is unique to that person. So what’s the cost for one person might not be the same cost for another,” Morgan stressed.

While AHEC West is not currently offering in-person appointments, they are available for phone or video calls and offer weekend and evening appointments.

For more information, please visit their website or call (888) 202-0212.

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