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Advocates Call For Outreach Workers

by Christine Stuart | Aug 21, 2014 1:56pm
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Posted to: Health Care, Local Politics, Media Matters, Nonprofits

Christine Stuart photo Health care advocates told the Access Health CT Board of Directors Thursday that they need to consider hiring a group of outreach workers to help people enroll in health insurance.

The second round of enrollment under the Affordable Care Act begins in mid-November, but advocates say there’s been no steps taken by the board to renew the in-person outreach program.

“The fact that at this date, Access Health CT has no clear public plan for the next enrollment period is very disturbing,” Frances Padilla, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, told the board Thursday. “We are extremely disappointed that there may be no in-person assistance or navigation services available come Nov. 15.”

Access Health CT CEO Kevin Counihan said the extent of the funding for an in-person assistance program is something they are working on currently.

“We had about $2.6 million last year in federal funding,” he said.

That money was only for one year, but the exchange has been able to identify about $454,000 of its own, according to Counihan. That money could be used to create a smaller version of the program.

In the meantime, “we’re also looking to apply for some federal funding,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who chairs the Access Health CT Board of Directors, said the board has been discussing the in-person assistance program and she told the advocates “you haven’t been forgotten.”

Outreach workers who participated in the program earlier this year still receive calls and questions from individuals they enrolled.

Michelle Jimenez, an outreach worker at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, told the board that she participated in the program.

“In my role I have met many consumers in need of someone who can both advocate for them and take the time to explain everything they have the right to know,” Jimenez said.

She said the process of enrollment is complicated and many of her clients had more questions than they thought they would. Some had trouble understanding the questions, while others had difficulty producing the necessary documents to qualify for Medicaid or a subsidy.

“For them a face-to-face experience is critical,” Jimenez said.

The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (C.A.R.E.) at Yale’s School of Public Health released a survey Thursday that found the in-person assistance program was extremely successful and helpful to consumers who were unable to navigate the helpline or website.

A survey by the group found a higher rate of satisfaction among consumers who used in-person assisters.

Alycia Santilli of C.A.R.E. said most of the consumers surveyed found out about Access Health CT through word of mouth and family and friends, even when compared to the news and commercials.

She recommended the board look at providing some type of in-person assistance program year round. She also suggested tailoring that support on the grassroots level for the different populations.

Community organizers like Alta Lash, executive director of United for CT Action Neighborhoods, said there are large segments of the Latino community that missed the last enrollment period, which ended in March.

“Especially in the Latino community the face-to-face contact is very, very important,” Lash said.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, who is a member of the AccessHealth CT board, said as the number of uninsured in the state decreases it might be necessary to have more “high touch, high trust interaction with our customers.”

Jason Madrak, chief marketing officer for Access Health CT, said mass media and even TV commercials can target specific populations in specific geographic areas. He said they plan to use local community newspapers, local radio, and websites to reach the populations without insurance.

Access Health CT reported Thursday at that two-third or 67 percent of the remaining uninsured now reside in 10 key urban areas, including New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Britain, Meriden, Stamford, West Haven, Windham, and East Hartford.

Access Health CT is also teaming up with Live Nation on a college road trip where a branded vehicle and street team will arrive on campuses with promotional items and educational information in both English and Spanish.

There’s also a plan to have six town hall style meetings called “Health Chats” in various parts of the state.

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