Photo by Elizabeth Earl/The Peninsula Clarion Tina Minster, a health care insurance navigator at Peninsula Community Health Services, handles the outreach and enrollment in the community. She regularly travels around and "sets up wherever they'll let me," she said.

Photo by Elizabeth Earl/The Peninsula Clarion Tina Minster, a health care insurance navigator at Peninsula Community Health Services, handles the outreach and enrollment in the community. She regularly travels around and "sets up wherever they'll let me," she said.

PCHS health insurance navigator sets up shop around community

Tina Minster carries her MiFi and laptop with her everywhere she goes so she can answer questions about health insurance whenever they come up. In the summer, she wanders the beaches and signs up dipnetters for health insurance.

“I will just wander around, because it’s a whole new population because they’re there for subsistence,” Minster said.

“They’re there because they need to eat in the wintertime, and if they need to eat in the wintertime, they probably are going to need insurance in the wintertime.”

Minster, a health navigator at Peninsula Community Health Services, handles the outreach and enrollment for health insurance.

When people come to her, confused about health insurance, she helps explain what the best options are.

It isn’t always easy for her. When she was initially offered the job, Minster said she turned it down. Even after accepting the job, she said it has been a balancing act of trying to learn as much as possible about the new health care law and keeping up with the changes.

“When this started three years ago, it was every day we were on webinars, learning,” Minster said.

“I remember hosting one night at the Lutheran church where there were 20 people there, and everything that I had planned for them that morning I had to change that night because President Obama made a change.”

Most of the complaints she gets are still about having to enroll in the first place, she said. Some people will go all the way through the process only to back out because the cost of the insurance may exceed the cost of paying the doctor in cash, she said.

Those tend to be young people, which could present a problem in the model of the Affordable Care Act — insurance only gets cheaper when everyone uses it because the payment pool is larger and some pay for insurance without using it often.

Another challenge in Alaska is the generally rising cost of insurance. Alaska has some of the most expensive health care in the country and some of the highest insurance premiums. Sometimes the insurance premiums can be lower, but the copays for individual doctor’s visits and generic drugs can add up.

When some are facing either paying several hundred dollars in insurance every month or facing a steep tax penalty for not having insurance, they can land in a quandary. That’s why Minster sits in tax accountants’ offices during tax season, if they’ll let her, she said.

“People will say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to have to pay that penalty, I need to get health insurance,’” Minster said. “And I’ll just raise my hand and say, ‘I can help you.’”

There are three navigators at Peninsula Community Health Services, but Minster said she does most of the outreach. She makes appointments at her office at the clinic but will travel to individual homes, city hall, private offices and public libraries. Friday afternoon found her set up in the community room of the Soldotna Public Library.

Some events draw one person in a few hours, she said, but on Friday, she saw 13 people in two hours, or nearly one every 10 minutes.

The enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, which opened Nov. 1, runs until Jan. 31 of next year, and is a busy time for health insurance navigators. Minster said she will be walking many people through the basics of health insurance because some have never been insured before — terms like deductible and premium can be confusing.

“I’m barely in my office,” Minster said. “I’ll make appointments there, but otherwise, I’m there like once a week. When I’m not there, the requests will get forwarded to the other two navigators.”

Health insurance in Alaska is a narrower offering than in many other states as only two private insurance companies, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, offer insurance plans through the state health care exchange. With the expansion of Medicaid, more people statewide qualify, but Minster said some may not even know that Medicaid has expanded, let alone whether they qualify.

Those with questions can call Peninsula Community Health Services to make an appointment or stop in to get their questions answered. There is some information available through the federal health care website, but locally, Minster said PCHS may be one of the best resources.

Annette Campbell, who stopped in at the library Friday, said she is currently surveying her options for health insurance. After recently switching jobs, she said she is trying to determine what the best insurance option is.

“I don’t know all the details … versus what my previous employer’s was,” Campbell said. “I’m trying to get all that taken care of now so I don’t have to worry about it.”

Minster said the job can be frustrating, but she does it for the sake of helping people. With a background in behavioral health and as a single parent, she said she can relate to the struggles of many of her clients and can help them through their frustration.

“I have a passion for the people and a passion for people’s being healthy,” Minster said.

“I can empathize with so many different people now. “

Reach Elizabeth Earl at

More in News

A moose is photographed in Kalifornsky, Alaska, in July 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Illegal moose harvest down from past 5 years

The large majority of moose this year were harvested from North and South Kasilof River areas.

Renee Behymer and Katelyn Behymer (right) of Anchorage win this week’s vaccine lottery college scholarship sweepstakes. (Photo provided)
Dillingham and Anchorage residents win 6th vaccine lottery

“Get it done,” one winner said. “Protect us all, protect our elders and our grandchildren.”

Kenai Vice Mayor and council member Bob Molloy (center), council member Jim Glendening (right), council member Victoria Askin (far right), and council member Henry Knackstedt (far left) participate in a work session discussing the overhaul of Kenai election codes on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska.
Kenai City Council gives sendoffs, certifies election results

Both council members-elect — Deborah Sounart and James Baisden — attended Wednesday.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
COVID is No. 3 underlying cause of death among Alaskans so far this year

The virus accounted for about 7.5% of all underlying causes of death after a review of death certificates.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives during a floor debate on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, over an appropriations bill during the Legislature’s third special session of the summer. Multiple organizations reported on Wednesday that Eastman is a lifetime member of the far-right organization the Oath Keepers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Data leak shows state rep is member of far-right organization

Wasilla area lawmaker said he joined when Oath Keepers first started.

Christine Hutchison, who lives in Kenai and also serves on the Kenai Harbor Commission, testifies in support of the use of alternative treatments for COVID-19 during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Medical liberty’ petition brought to Kenai City Council

Some members of the public and Kenai City Council spoke against health mandates and in support of alternative treatments for COVID-19

Amber Kraxberger-Linson, a member of Trout Unlimited and streamwatch coordinator for the Chugach National Forest, works in the field in this undated photo. Kraxberger-Linson will be discussing at the Saturday, Oct. 23 International Fly Fishing Film Festival the organization’s educational programming for next summer. (Photo provided by Trout Unlimited)
Out on the water — and on the screen

Trout Unlimited to host fly fishing film festival Saturday.

This screen capture from surveillance footage released by the Anchorage Police Department shows a masked man vandalizing the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage in May. (Courtesy photo / APD)
Museums statewide condemn antisemitic vandalism

Two incidents, one in May, one in September, have marred the museum this year.

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month. (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)
Peninsula speech language therapists awarded for excellence

“I was very honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues,” Evans said in an interview with the Clarion.

Most Read