S.C. nonprofit assisting with affordable health care enrollment in midst of unemployment woes

VIDEO: S.C. nonprofit assisting with affordable health care enrollment in midst of unemployment woes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - People who are unemployed are beginning to lose their health insurance coverage.

The Palmetto Project, a statewide nonprofit, is helping people secure affordable health coverage through its Insure South Carolina initiative. Their services are free.

Director of Programs for the Palmetto Project Shelli Quenga says they are the first statewide nonprofit insurance agency in the nation.

"So we can help anyone who is a resident of South Carolina figure out what their health insurance options are, Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, dental, vision, any kind of insurance product," Quenga said.

The nonprofit estimates 375,000 people in South Carolina will lose their job-based health insurance by June because they are unemployed.

South Carolina resident Andrezia Becknell is one of them.

"I was actually kind of panicking silently," Becknell said.

Becknell says being uninsured is costly.

“I’m transgender non-binary and I had to go for my hormone replacement therapy appointment,” Becknell said. “I had to pay it all out of pocket because I didn’t have my insurance and that ended up being quite a bit more than I was expecting.”

So Becknell turned to the Palmetto Project to find a new affordable plan. Through the COBRA insurance program Becknell says the cost is $516 a month for coverage. COBRA gives some employees the ability to continue health insurance coverage after leaving employment.

The Palmetto Project was able to find a plan where Becknell saved hundreds of dollars. Becknell says the new plan is through the Affordable Care Act with Blue Cross Blue Shield and is $88 a month.

“I know that times are difficult now. I’m doing my best to think on the bright side,” Becknell said. “I have a lot of hope that we as a country, we as a community can really get through this.”

Quenga says people must act quickly to secure affordable coverage.

“Historically the Affordable Care Act, although it’s been highly controversial, really only helped a small percentage of people who didn’t have an offer of insurance from their employer,” Quenga said. “Now when you lose your job based coverage you have 60 days after that loss of coverage to be able to sign up for an ACA plan.”

People who lose job-based coverage qualify for a Special Enrollment Period on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

Quenga says most families qualify for Medicaid for their children which is free.

She encourages people to reach out to get assistance on how to navigate the system and learn about coverage plans that are available for them. Enrollment is completed over the phone to follow social distancing guidelines, and the Palmetto Project can email you plan choices for review.

“It’s important seek out a local expert to help you who understands the networks, who understands the doctors and hospitals you want to go,” Quenga said. “We can look up the prescriptions that you’re on so you know exactly what that cost is going to be every month because budgeting is always important but now it’s crucial.”

The Palmetto Project is based in North Charleston and has a mission to identify innovative approaches to social and economic challenges facing South Carolina.

You can reach out to the Palmetto Project to talk with an expert who can help you navigate the enrollment process by visiting www.Insure-SC.org or calling (843) 577-4122.

People who didn’t have insurance through their employer and are currently uninsured may still be able to enroll in coverage if they experience a life event that qualifies them for an SEP, such as getting married or having a baby.

The nonprofit is also helping people sign-up for unemployment benefits, over the phone, who might not have internet access at home.

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