For those who have never had health insurance — and must get it now due to the Affordable Care Act — understanding health care plans can be confusing. That’s where Verdugo Jobs Center comes in.

The government-funded employment organization is offering free enrollment counseling for people who are trying to sign up for Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange related to what’s known as Obamacare.

“People who have not had health insurance before. They don’t know what a plan is, what an HMO is, what a PPO is,” said Lori Kurdoghlian, a program manager at the center. “So we help educate them so they can make an informed choice that meets their needs.”

Several health insurance marketplaces were set up on the federal and state levels because of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance requirement. Although the federal program, healthcare.gov, had issues when it first started operating, Covered California, accessed through coveredca.com, was better off.

Kurdoghlian said while the California website can be slow at times, it’s getting better every day.

The Verdugo Jobs Center has helped about 70 people with its hour-long, step-by-step enrollment assistance since it started the service on Dec. 18, and many more have come into the Glendale office to get informed about their options, Kurdoghlian said.

Most of the people the center has helped are currently unemployed, but the service is not limited to low-income earners. It’s also not limited to the center’s typical geographic reach of Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada Flintridge.

Most clients are happy to have the opportunity to receive coverage for the first time, Kurdoghlian said.

“A lot of them are very excited… that’s the majority actually,” she said. “Yes, they have to pay, but it’s peace of mind.”

She’s also seen some who already have insurance switching to Covered California because it’s less expensive, especially if you have an income that qualifies for premium assistance. Those who make a maximum of $45,960 a year as an individual to a maximum of $94,200 for a household of four can receive an advanced tax credit that offsets their monthly costs, Kurdoghlian said.

The discount varies depending on income.

Those who make a maximum of $15,856 as an individual to a maximum of $32,499 for a family of four qualify for Medi-Cal, a government subsidy that further reduces healthcare costs. More than half of the clients served by Verdugo Jobs Center have qualified for Medi-Cal, Kurdoghlian said.

There are some who still think even the discounted rates are too expensive and may opt to pay the $95 per-person, one-time tax penalty for not getting insurance, she said.

How enrollment works

The enrollment process requires a Social Security number, government-issued identification and proof of income.

An enrollment counselor will help a client input their age, zip code, income and household size. The website will then respond with different plan options on various levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The monthly payments rise, in that order, but the deductibles, decrease concurrently.

There are five health insurance companies, including Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross, that each have one of the differentiated plan types.

The enrollment counselors don’t make recommendations, but they do guide clients through the process, helping them understand technical terms.

“They should get as much information as possible when they do sign up for a plan so there are no surprises later on,” Kurdoghlian said.

Open enrollment for Covered California lasts through March 31. However, enrollment counselors will be available all year long as those that have a life change — marriage, divorce, job loss — can sign up on Covered California later in the year within six months of the change.

Those interested in enrollment help can walk into Verdugo Jobs Center at 1255 S. Central Ave. Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or schedule an appointment by calling (818) 937-8011. Counselors speak English, Spanish, Russian and Armenian.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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