Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut’s uninsured rate has dropped by more than 50% since 2012, but as the State gears up for the second round of healthcare enrollment, advocates worry that some resident will be left out.
Important outreach programs such as the Navigator and In-Person Assisters Program (NIPA) that helped residents enroll for coverage will not be funded this year. Last year, the NIPA program was supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but states, like Connecticut, with independent facilitated market-places, are not eligible for funding this year.
Findings of an independent enrollment evaluation report overwhelmingly support the value of in-person assistance, especially in engaging harder to reach communities. In Connecticut in-person assisters enrolled 31,769 residents, conducted outreach and provided residents with information about financial help and new insurance options. The study also reported a high rate of consumer satisfaction with the enrollment process, 95 percent reported the process being easy with the help of in-person assistance.
Without the support of in-person assisters, the second round of enrollment under the Affordable Care promises to be tougher than the first. Many of those who were eager to get covered already did, and those who need coverage the most are even harder to reach. Access Health CT reports that approximately 147,000 uninsured residents remain in Connecticut.
The full community outreach plan was presented at last month’s Access Health CT’s board meeting by Chief Marketing Officer Jason Madrak. There are four primary outreach goals that differ from last year when the State only had new enrollees to reach.
“We have a couple of additional challenges this year,” said Madrak. “The first goal is to continue to raise awareness of affordable healthcare insurance among those who still do not have healthcare insurance– but there are just physically fewer individuals in our state.”
And although uninsured residents are scattered throughout the state, Madrak argued that from a targeting and outreach perspective, the good news is that these individuals are even more tightly clustered in ten key cities. As such Access Health CT’s outreach plan can be more focused and targeted.
The second goal is to reinforce the benefits among individuals who are insured but could find better value on the exchange.
Madrak also said they have adjusted their messaging to address their third goal. Last time, they only had to persuade residents to sign up by communicating the benefits of having insurance. This time, they have to convince residents to stay with their insurance plans through renewals.
The fourth goal is to help consumers understand the value of their current plan and the insurance they have. Madrak added that Access Health CT has a robust role in helping consumer’s access healthcare.
But what is on the minds of many advocates is how will Access Health CT accomplish all of this without the help of the hundreds of trained in-person assisters and the six navigator organizations?
Advocates like Small Business Owner, Kevin Gavin, said reaching more of the uninsured will require street-level outreach.
“That’s why the assisters program was so important, because it actually touched those people,” Galvin said in CT Mirror. “And they do not have a plan to really go after the folks that we think deserve to be insured.”
Madrak shared the exchange’s two-tier outreach plan with members of the Access Health CT board. The exchange would provide 20 outreach staff and support for 20 other outreach workers and personnel at the two store fronts that would remain open in New Haven and New Britain. Community partners are then encouraged to refer enrollees to these store-fronts for in-person assistance.
They have also partnered with six key organization across the state based on an evaluation of groups that are uninsured. The organizations include: Hispanic Health Council, The Library Association, Department of Labor, New Opportunities, United Family Services and Community Action Agency.
Madrak also stated that resources, materials and training will be provided to any community organization or members who are willing to help with the enrollment process. However, no funding to date has been committed to support these outreach efforts.
Access Health CT will also apply for operating funding under the Department of Social Services and continue to work with local funders to support additional outreach efforts.
Another challenge is the a shorter open enrollment period– which is 90 days, about half the time as before.
Madras said they are feeling the time crunch “everyday,” and are working hard to ensure the exchange will be ready for the Nov. 15 enrollment start date.
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