Health insurance

Dislocated workers can get $500 per family member to help with insurance

Jun. 21—Thanks to a $1 million grant from Dogwood Health Trust, those without health insurance due to the Pactiv Evergreen mill closure have some stop-gap answers.

With the company insurance coverage paid for by Pactiv Evergreen through July 31 for workers who sign up under COBRA, those unable to find another job immediately or who have to wait until they are eligible for insurance at their new job can receive up to $500 per family member to defray the policy cost.

To access the coverage, workers, whether they were employed at the mill or were laid off from other businesses impacted by the paper mill closure can apply for help through the Mountain Projects Get Covered WNC program.

There, health counselors will help families find the policy that best suits their individual needs, whether it is extending their existing plan through the rest of the year or finding another suitable plan through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

At the commissioner meeting Monday evening, Jan Plummer, Mountain Projects WNC program coordinator, said the subsidy should offset the cost of the health insurance premium for all in the household who were on the company policy.

Commissioner Jennifer Best, who used to be in the insurance business, had high praise for Plummer, who she said helped agents understand the Affordable Care Act process and how to look at coverage options.

“If someone is between employment, they shouldn’t try to endure that time without insurance, right?” Best asked.

Both Plummer and Best agreed that even if someone needed coverage for just a couple months, it would be worth signing up because just one accident or medical scare in between policies could drastically change a family’s fate.

For more information visit under the Mountain Projects website or call 452-1447.

Once insurance coverage is in place, United Way of Haywood County, which is handling the grant funding, will issue the covered individual or family a check.

Patsy Davis, executive director of Mountain Projects, has had staff members at numerous events and at the Smoky Mountain where healthcare experts spend an hour or so with those needing insurance to evaluate the options.

For some, they’ve been delighted to learn they can find a policy for $100 or so. Others, especially those who have met deductibles for the 2023 calendar year and are evaluating whether it might make more sense to stick with the company’s Blue Cross Blue Shield policy until the year’s end, where costs are $860 for an individual; $1,600 for an employee and spouse and $2,400 for a family.

Davis spoke of one mill worker she hired, though not at near the salary the breadwinner was making previously.

It will be three months before the person is eligible for the insurance offered through Mountain Projects, so having a pool of money that will help the family bridge that gap is invaluable.

The good thing about the grant is that it is fairly open-ended, so it can be used for other needs.

“At this point, seeing a lot of other calls but nothing related specifically to Evergreen,” Davis said, noting the agency tracks every call received. “I anticipate there will be a lot more calls later in the fall because it costs a lot more to live in the winter than it does in the summer.”

United Way, county

The Dogwood funds are being funneled through United Way of Haywood County, which has a successful track record of managing funds for the common good, the most recent after Tropical Storm Fred hit Haywood hard.

“We have been talking with the county and Mountain Projects for a while about what we can do to help displaced workers,” said Celesa Willett, the United Way executive director. “We knew Dogwood has the capacity to help with these situations, so we reached out, and they were happy to help. We’re hoping to help folks with insurance premiums, mortgages and retooling for next phase of life.”

David Francis, who oversees the county’s economic development efforts, said the funds will first be used to help reduce financial burdens with the health insurance. Beyond that, there are plenty of others who have lost jobs, including 60 folks at a local chip provider and 20 folks who worked on cores needed for the paper rolls.

“We’re especially grateful for our community partners in this, especially Dogwood Trust,” Francis said.

“Once again, public and private partnerships are coming together to help the people of WNC,” said Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers. “This wonderful grant will help us build on our tradition of working together to create a hometown of tomorrow that respects and honors our past yet builds a bold future.”

In addition to this gift, Dogwood is supporting the Southwestern Commission to conduct a regional study of the mill closure’s economic impact and will continue working directly with local and regional partners, as well as philanthropic and other organizations, to assist those affected by this event.

“Although the mill closure creates an economic crisis, we also know that there will be ripple effects that impact all of Dogwood’s strategic priority areas: housing, education, economic opportunity and health and wellness,” said Susan Mims, CEO of Dogwood Health Trust. “We know that individuals who were not directly employed by the mill will also feel the repercussions of this event. The people of Canton, Haywood County and all of WNC are resourceful and resilient, and we remain committed to helping them create places where everyone can live, learn, earn and thrive — no exceptions.”

More information about the type and timing of assistance available will be forthcoming from the United Way of Haywood County. For questions, contact the United Way directly at 828-356-2832.

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