A handful of guides throughout the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas are now licensed to help people navigate the new healthcare system under the Affordable Care Act.
Two of them work for the Economic Opportunity Agency (EOA) in Washington County. Cliff Rackley is based at the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center in Fort Smith.
Rackley's role as an in-person assistor (IPA) is to inform Arkansans about the Affordable Care Act and the marketplace options. The marketplace offers plans with four private healthcare providers and consumers can compare options to find the one that best fits their needs.
"I am completely unbiased," said Rackley. "My role is to help you decide what you want."
Consumers may enroll on their own, or a guide can help individuals, families and small businesses. The service is free of charge, and consumers are asked to bring their social security number, valid identification and proof of income.
Rackley said the cost for insurance won't be more than eight percent of a person's annual gross income.
"A lot of Arkansans that don't have insurance, it's not because they don't want it, it's that they can't afford it," he said.
Fort Smith independent insurance agent Dolores Chitwood, who is also certified to provide assistance to consumers about the Affordable Care Act, said there are affordable insurance options for Arkansans.
"The vast majority of Arkansas consumers will be eligible for either total premium support or a partial premium support or a partial premium support based on their income," said Chitwood.
The website to enroll, arhealthconnector.org, has been experiencing issues because of the volume of people attempting to sign up. Chitwood said the enrollment deadline is December 15 for people wanting coverage on January 1.
"Don't be overwhelmed because there's still plenty of time," she said.
The Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center has a fluent Spanish-speaking healthcare guide who is expected to receive her license within the next few weeks.
Aaron Randall, the in-person assistors guide program manager for EOA, said guides plan to visit small businesses and organizations to help people through the process.
"That's one of the reasons we're out and about right now in the community," said Randall. "We're not just going to be in our office in Springdale. We intend to be working with a big network of community partners that we have."
Click here to search for healthcare guides by county. There are about 500 healthcare guides in Arkansas.
Click here to search for certified insurance agents in the area.