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Nevada Office Of Consumer Health Assistance gets new director


by Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The state office created to help guide Nevadans through the complex maze of health care billing and access to care has a new director starting tomorrow.

Marilyn Wills has been named director of the Office of Consumer Health Assistance by Mike Willden, director of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Wills has served as interim director since April 2010. As director, Wills will continue her work to manage the office, which operationally moved into Willden’s office as a result of legislation approved by the 2011 Legislature. The office had been under the purview of the governor’s office.

Located in Las Vegas, the office provides statewide advocacy and education to health care consumers and providers. It helps individuals resolve hospital billing disputes, audit hospital charges, review and resolve physician billing disputes, and negotiate charity or discounted payment arrangements. In addition, it helps people locate health care services available in their community, resolve workers compensation issues, as well as locate coverage for prescription drugs.

Consumer health assistance is available irrespective of an individual’s health insurance coverage and can even help people apply for insurance including Medicaid, Medicare, NV Check Up (the state’s insurance for children), and Pre-existing Insurance Coverage (PCIP) for those who have been denied coverage from other insurance providers. The office, with its staff of twelve, responded to over 15,000 consumer requests last year.

Wills has also been given oversight of the Office of Minority Health, which was also recently relocated to Willden’s office. Wills previously worked in the agency’s Division of Aging and Disability Services for nine years.

“We feel the synergy created by bringing these services together within the director’s office will enhance the capabilities of both offices and provide more robust resources for consumers,” said Deputy Director Mary Liveratti. “Marilyn brings strong and relevant skills to this position along with a genuine interest and concern to help others.”

Wills said the office has been able to expand in the current economic downturn with the help of a federal grant to assist in explaining the new federal health care law to consumers. Nevada is one of 26 states in a lawsuit challenging the law, but until a final legal determination is made, the state is preparing for its implementation in 2014, she said.

Wills said her office does get questions about the new federal insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, but most inquiries involve billing questions and access to care issues.

“We have so many people out there, particularly in this economy, who don’t have resources, don’t have insurance, and are ill or need some sort of medical attention, and one of the problems has been that those people have been more or less forced to go to emergency rooms for treatment,” Wills said. “We’re encouraging people to call us because there are some other alternatives.”

Navigating access to health care, even with a health insurance policy, can be a complex process, she said.

“And a lot of our cases get extremely complicated and difficult and some of them are very heartbreaking – people who need surgeries or need cancer treatments – and we try our best to find the resources for people out there,” Wills said.

Audio clips:

Marilyn Wills, newly appointed director of the Office of Consumer Health Assistance, says the agency has expanded with a federal grant to help explain the new health care law:

063011Wills1 :23 to be implemented.”

Wills says there are many people without health insurance who need help from the office:

063011Wills2 : 22 rooms for treatment.”

Wills says she wants people to call because there are alternatives to a visit to an emergency room:

063011Wills3 :19 available to them.”

Wills says a lot of the cases are complex and sometimes heartbreaking:

063011Wills4 :15 people out there.”

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