Certified Application Counselor Margaret Fahringer, of Germantown, helps constituents enroll in the marketplace for free at State Rep. Cherelle Parker's office, 1536 E. Wadsworth Ave.,  on Tuesday afternoons between 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Residents can  also schedule appointment with a certified application counselor at Germantown Life Enrichment Center, 5722 Germantown Ave., by calling Conni at 215-843-1210.  (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Certified Application Counselor Margaret Fahringer, of Germantown, helps constituents enroll in the marketplace for free at State Rep. Cherelle Parker’s office, 1536 E. Wadsworth Ave., on Tuesday afternoons between 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Residents can also schedule appointment with a certified application counselor at Germantown Life Enrichment Center, 5722 Germantown Ave., by calling 215-285-8136. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Margaret Fahringer, 60, of Germantown, is on a mission to get people enrolled in the health insurance marketplace. Armed with her laptop, iPad, cell phone and healthcare.gov binder, Fahringer, who is a certified application counselor, travels to various sites throughout the Philadelphia area volunteering her services.

Fahringer, who retired five years ago as an accessible specialist at the Philadelphia Housing Authority, knows firsthand the importance of having access to affordable health care. Before taking early retirement at PHA, Fahringer said she had “the best insurance you could have back then.”

She said that before the Affordable Care Act, she was forced to pay very high premiums for an individual health insurance plan.

“When I say high premiums I mean between $715 and $950 a month,” Fahringer said.

When she tried to apply for a different plan, she was turned down because the insurance company said she had pre-existing conditions.

“To this day, I really don’t know why,” she said, adding that she does suffer from migraine headaches.

Fahringer, who volunteers at State Rep. Cherelle Parker’s office on Tuesday afternoons, said one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the marketplace is that “it’s not for them.” She said people are often surprised to find out that they qualify for the approved tax credits.

Fahringer noted that one of the biggest obstacles, people face in gaining access to affordable health insurance is the digital divide. She said 40 percent of Philadelphia households don’t have access to the Internet.

“The process can be intimidating to someone who may not be computer savvy,” Fahringer said. “Having someone to help you every step of the way makes the whole process less overwhelming.

Fahringer, who has volunteered countless hours with Resource for Human Development (RHD), said being a certified application counselor is one of the most rewarding things she has ever done.

“I know I am making a difference in people’s lives,” Fahringer said.

Clarice McIntosh, 63, of East Germantown, is grateful to Fahringer for helping her navigate the marketplace.

McIntosh used to work in health administration before she quit her job to take care of her husband who has cancer, said she couldn’t afford to pay 100 percent of her premium through COBRA. (Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA, you are entitled to continue your health insurance plan through your employer for about 18 months.)

“Cobra was too expensive,” McIntosh said. “So, I went without insurance for a while.”

Although McIntosh has a computer, she wasn’t sure what insurance plan was right for her, but was determined to get affordable health insurance despite being kicked out of the system several times.

She praised Fahringer for going the extra mile by rearranging her schedule to meet with her at a different time.

“Margaret is a fantastic person,” McIntosh said. “She really cares about people and wants them to gain access to affordable health insurance.”

McIntosh added that the staff at Parker’s office is always helpful.

“Anytime, I ever went to Wadsworth with any questions, they have always helped me,” McIntosh said. “There are some politicians that care.”

State Representative Cherelle Parker said it was vital that constituents have access to information regarding services of all kind “directly in their neighborhood.”

“My role as a legislator is to simply serve as a connector – a connector to information and access to those who are properly trained to help our people get through the process of enrolling in the Affordable Care Act via the marketplace,” Parker said.

Parker said her office will continue to work with Resources for Human Development (RHD) to target small businesses and young adults. She said while several of her colleagues have hosted one-day events where constituents could sign up, she wanted “a form of consistency.”

“Ensuring that young people are covered is an extremely important part of making sure it’s [the Affordable Care Act] is successful, and that’s why we are trying to get as many young people as possible enrolled and to find out what products are better suited for those individuals.”

Wendy Davis, director of Resources for Human Development’s Navigator Program, said navigators and certified application counselors help people “find health coverage that works for a variety of budgets and individual’s needs.”

She said both navigators and certified application counselors have received training from the Department of Health and Human Services. Navigators must complete 20 hours of training and certified application counselors must complete five hours of training.

Davis suggests people do “a little homework” before enrolling in a plan.

“It helps if people have some idea of who their providers are so they can ensure the plans they are looking at include those providers are in their network,” she said.

Davis said people need to bring identification, proof of income for their household, and copies of their 2012 tax forms if they filed. She also suggested residents bring a list of their current medications.

“That’s very important because certain plans may not cover certain prescriptions,” Davis said.

Davis emphasized that navigators and certified application counselors provide a free service in a safe secure environment. She said navigators and certified application counselors are impartial and have nothing to gain by encouraging you to join one plan or another. If people need help finding a certified application counselor in their area, they can call Resources for Human Development’s toll-free number at 855-668-9536 for information about programs in their area.

To set up an appointment with Fahringer at State Rep. Parker’s office call 215-242-7300. Residents can also schedule an appointment at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center, 5722 Germantown Ave., by calling Conni or Margaret at 215-285-8136 or 215-848-6172.

An earlier version of this article had the wrong toll free number listed for RHD. The correct number is 855-668-9536.