State Must Keep Health Care Assistance
By PATRICIA BAKER, FRANCES G. PADILLA AND NANCY L. HEATON | OP-ED, Sept 12, 2014
Connecticut, along with the nation, is heading into the Affordable Care Act‘s second open enrollment period starting Nov. 15. What’s troubling is that our state has no public plan for linking consumers with the in-person assistance that was available a year ago.
During round two, the 257,000 plus people statewide who enrolled in the first year will have the opportunity to renew or select a different plan from a dizzying array of expanded offerings. Concurrently, this will be a time to target the population that remains uninsured. We still have unfinished business in enrolling those under age 35, males, African-Americans and Latinos. These groups are more challenging to reach and harder to convince about the benefits and peace-of-mind health insurance offers.
As the leaders of three of Connecticut’s independent health foundations, we provided grant funding to Access Health CT last year. This helped to provide for navigators and in-person assisters to deliver face-to-face education and enrollment assistance in communities for those seeking to sign up for health insurance. We knew consumers, especially those new to the complex world of health insurance, would need knowledgeable and trustworthy local resources to help them understand the various options available to them and how to sign up for them.
These in-person assisters engaged Connecticut residents 605,495 times with information about the new insurance options and financial assistance, and enrolled 31,769 residents — about half of whom were uninsured — in coverage.
The findings of an independent enrollment evaluation, conducted by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement of Yale School of Public Health, overwhelmingly support the value of in-person assistance, especially with harder to reach communities. For example, the study found that consumers were better able to obtain the information they needed with greater satisfaction from in-persons assisters than through Access Health CT’s website or helpline.
This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $60 million in grants to 90 navigator organizations. Unfortunately, organizations in places with state-facilitated marketplaces such as Connecticut were not eligible. Connecticut’s inability to renew more than $3 million of federal funding that supported last year’s in-person assistance efforts has left the fate of many uninsured residents uncertain.
Our foundations are not able to replace federal funding, but we have been ready to help in any way that we can, including with additional grant funding. Community organizations that were part of the in-person assistance network during round one, including many of our grantees, have been eager to re-engage in the enrollment process. But, so far, the state plans for implementing the second round of open enrollment have not been publicly released. It remains unclear where we fit in. For Connecticut to leave private funding and experience on the table would be a missed opportunity.
Connecticut cannot go back to a time when the state uninsured rate was 7.9 percent. In-person assistance is a key component in preserving the gains that made us a national leader. In-person assisters are part of a “no wrong door” approach to helping consumers through barriers and covering those who might have otherwise given up and remained uninsured. These consumers now have access to — and are using — important benefits such as doctor visits, prescriptions and preventive care.
We understand that as a practical reality, in-person assistance will need to be scaled back and look different this time, but the state is not at the point where we can let go of high-touch efforts as part of a comprehensive strategy.
We need to ensure that in-person assistance remains an essential part of the consumer support system this enrollment period and beyond, providing support yearlong for consumers who face challenges using their insurance. So the question to Connecticut’s health reform leaders remains: What’s the plan?
Patricia Baker is president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation. Frances G. Padilla is president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. Nancy L. Heaton is CEO, of the Foundation for Community Health. (Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant)
OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc concurs 100 percent with the authors that the in-person assisters need to remain in place to help consumers to sign-up and navigate what is still a challenging health care pathway to getting affordable and suitable health coverage.
OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc is a 501©3 volunteer organization in CT. OneWorld produces community information television programs and community forums on health literacy, education and civic engagement since 1996. Visit our web site at: www.oneworldpi.org/ OneWorld has been providing key information about Health Care Reform since 2009, and has provided informative blogs and produced a comprehensive Sign-up Workshop and much more information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for viewers of our programs, and visitors to our YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/M_eK_jGyHsE
Our television programs air on AT&T Uverse (Channel 99, drop-down menu) statewide, and on Charter Communications Chan. 21, on Comcast channels 10, 15, 18 and 26.
The next open enrollment period starts Nov. 15, 2014. Check with the Access Health CT site for the latest information.