The federal healthcare marketplace website goes live Tuesday, ending years of preparation and speculation.
"The way healthcare.gov is set up, most Americans should be able to navigate the marketplace on their own," said Don Hazaert, executive director of Michigan Consumers for Healthcare.
But there will also be people who have questions. Fortunately, he says there are plenty of resources to help, namely, people called navigators.
"The role of a navigator is simply to help that person make a decision for themselves as far as what makes sense for their family and themselves," said Hazaert. "There are going to be some people who have never had insurance before and they don't understand basic insurance concepts like an HMO or a PPO, an out of network provider. So they need someone to explain that to them and walk them through that so they can make a smart choice for themselves."
There are more than 300 navigators statewide and more are going through the 20 hours of training necessary to become one. They will make appointments with people to meet face-to-face and sign up for health insurance online.
The federal healthcare marketplace is a website where consumers can choose from one of 14 insurance plans, which are compared side-by-side.
The navigators are not salespeople though, they are prohibited by law from having a conflict of interest.
"They make the choices, we just show them what the choices are," said Kathleen Johnston-Calati, a navigator. "Having helpers is going to be very good for people, make them feel more comfortable and help them get the right thing."
The navigators are part of local nonprofits, so as to make the hard-to-reach population more comfortable, Hazaert said.
Also there to help are Certified Application Counselors, or CAC's. They function in much of the same way, except they are permitted to have conflicts of interest with insurance companies.
The Ingham County Health Department is also doing its part to make the federal marketplace more accessible.
A renovation, lasting 4-6 weeks, will make room for five new computers to enroll people in the exchange or Medicaid.
"We think it is essential and it is a big deal and we think it's really important and we think that ensuring that everybody has the opportunity to participate is as vitally important as well," said Debbie Edokpolo of the Ingham County Health Department.
She says the department's location is perfect to serve a population that may not have internet access.
"It's a good place, it's centrally located, it's on the bus line and people are able to get here," she said. "So we're glad to be able to help."
To find a navigator, click the "Enroll Michigan" link below, or call the Consumer Helpline at 517-512-3141.