BINGHAM — Paying medical bills has been a struggle for Sheila Webb since she injured her left arm and was unable to hold her job as a nurse at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan.

Webb, 50, of Moscow, was moving a wooden chair into a patient waiting room at the hospital when she tore cartilage, causing permanent damage. She has been out of work and undergone five surgeries since 2007, when she was placed on a worker’s compensation plan that doesn’t provide health care benefits. The hospital kept up her health insurance plan for one year after her injury, but she pays about $230 per month for her own insurance.

In December, she spent $2,500 on medical bills after she got a skin infection. In October, she went to the emergency room for stomach pains that turned out to be an ulcer. She spent three hours in the emergency room, with the cost of the visit adding up to $1,700, she said.

“Next time something goes wrong I don’t want to go to the ER. I don’t want bills and I don’t want to get into debt,” said Webb.

On Thursday, she picked up an application for health insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act at Jimmy’s Market, where a network of local health centers was hosting an information day on ways to access affordable health care.

The Affordable Care Act rolls out reforms over the next four years designed to lower the cost of insurance and provide universal coverage.

Juanita Bean, outreach worker at the Bingham Area Health Center, said the center, which is part of the HealthReach Community Health Centers network based in Waterville, has had a lot of inquiries about the new health insurance plans available to buy through the federal government.

Within the first hour at the market, the center had talked with about 10 people about health insurance plans and sent them home with applications.

Bean said she recommends using the website to apply and said the application process can be completed in as little as an hour. The website has been scrutinized for technical problems that have hindered enrollment, but Bean said the site is improving and is not as overwhelmed as it was when enrollment started Oct. 1.

Problems with the site have hindered enrollment. In the 36 states, including Maine, that must rely on the federal system fewer than 27,000 people signed up on the website during its first month of operation, according to the Associated Press. About 1 million more have applied, according to the AP.

Peter Richmond, 58, and Phyllis Leonard, 53, are among those Thursday who expressed frustration that had deterred them from exploring the new insurance options.

Even though they both have insurance, they would consider applying to the health insurance marketplace if the cost was lower than what they currently pay.

They both felt confused, however, by the system and the options available.

“We all deserve affordable health care and I think I would explore it as an option if there was a way to determine if it would be more affordable. It just seems so complicated, I’ve been avoiding it like the plague,” said Richmond, who lives in Brighton Plantation and is a self-employed farmer.

Leonard, who splits her time between Brighton Plantation and Boothbay Harbor, said the health insurance she receives through her employer, a Falmouth nursing home, is affordable, but she is exploring insurance options because her primary physician has left the state and she is looking for a new one.

She is considering seeing a holistic doctor, but is concerned that most insurance plans do not cover those visits, she said.

“It’s probably not a big concern for most people, but I think it could be of interest as that type of medicine expands. If I am required to have insurance, it would probably mean I have to establish a primary care physician that is not holistic,” she said.

Webb hopes the Affordable Care Act application is the first step toward some financial relief and peace of mind. Because of the workers’ compensation she receives, Webb does not qualify for MaineCare.

She has told her husband that in the case of another medical emergency, she would rather not be treated than face potential debt. She has some reservations about the program, including that her husband’s retirement money and the money that her granddaughter, who she adopted, collects, it might raise the cost of what she could pay through the new health insurance marketplace.

“Everybody’s income in this home will probably be used against me. I’m not really optimistic about it, but I’m happy to look into it. I have the time,” said Webb.

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 [email protected]

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