Laura Colbert, the executive director of the patient-advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, is especially concerned about rural patients. Ninety percent of Georgia’s Obamacare customers would be protected from…
Blog (July 2015)
GHF conducted in-depth interviews with and survey of enrollment assisters across the state to identify best practices and lessons learned from open enrollment 2. Here’s a summary of what worked, what didn’t, and what we can improve on next year.
What worked during OE 2: Successful strategies and best practices
Using a variety of local venues to conduct extensive outreach. Across the board, enrollment assisters identified the importance of conducting a broad range of outreach and enrollment activities at the local level. They identified a variety of venues where they successfully reached consumers including libraries, churches, college campuses, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, doctor’s offices, community health centers, cooperative extension offices, small businesses, AIDS service organizations, and local hospitals. For example, one navigator organization worked with a nurse navigator who met with uninsured consumers who presented at the emergency room at the local hospital. The nurse navigator connected these uninsured consumers to a navigator organization, allowing the organization to reach a much larger pool of consumers than if they had not had this partnership. Enroll America also provided significant support to assisters’ outreach and enrollment efforts. Assisters were limited in their ability to retain personal information about consumers, but because Enroll America only provided outreach and education, they could retain contact information and follow up with consumers seeking more information about the Marketplace.
Leveraging the support of existing partnerships for outreach. All of the assisters interviewed acknowledged that one of their best methods for reaching consumers was building upon existing relationships with community organizations. One group wrote letters to community partners letting them know of their navigator services, which created more awareness in their communities. Another enrollment assister organization had deep ties with Family Connection Partnership organizations in their area, which allowed them to have a well-known partner in each of the counties that they covered.
These partnerships allowed the enrollment assister organizations to use existing frameworks of community organizations to educate and provide enrollment assistance to the populations served by these groups. Because of the strong presence and history these partner organizations have in the communities they serve, consumers also viewed them as credible.
Developing trust with consumers. One of the most critical aspects of providing enrollment assistance was for assisters, and their organizations, to be recognized as a trusted resource within their communities. This was especially true for assisters working with immigrant and non-English speaking populations. One Spanish-speaking enrollment assister noted that it put consumers at ease to have a native speaker, rather than someone speaking Spanish as a second language, helping them to enroll. Additionally, due to the strong anti-ACA sentiment in the state, enrollment assisters reported that it was critical to be considered a trusted resource in order to overcome ideological barriers.
Reaching large numbers of people through events and local media. Enrollment events served as valuable opportunities for assisters to efficiently reach large numbers of people. For example, one of the navigator grantee organizations organized large events in rural communities to provide centralized assistance to a larger pool of consumers. These events were marketed in the local media using radio spots, newspaper ads, and movie theater ads. Additionally, some assister organizations used local media outlets to reach a large number of consumers. One organization in South Georgia held a phone bank with a local television station. The organization reported that following this event, their call volume of consumers looking for enrollment assistance picked up substantially.
What challenges and barriers remain for consumers?
Enrollment assisters identified several challenges in enrolling uninsured consumers and noted some barriers that some uninsured Georgians still face.
Many consumers had limited health insurance literacy. More than two-thirds of our survey respondents identified low health insurance literacy as a barrier to enrollment. Many of the consumers that assisters worked with had never been insured before, so they did not know how to choose a primary care physician or pay their monthly premium. One of the assisters interviewed acknowledged they needed to educate consumers on how to use their health insurance, but that it was a challenge when scheduled with a large number of enrollment appointments. Additionally, some assisters reported that consumers chose the lowest premium plan because they did not understand the concept of a high deductible. Sometimes consumers would return to the assister wanting to change plans once they had tried to use their coverage.
Many consumers fell into the coverage gap. Assisters encountered a large number of individuals and families that fell into the coverage gap, meaning that they did not qualify for Medicaid or subsidies to help them pay for Marketplace coverage and were left without an affordable pathway to coverage. Some assister organizations estimated that over half of the consumers they worked with fell into the gap. Enrollment assisters were able to provide these consumers with a list of resources where they could go to get free or low cost care, but indicated frustration at not being able to do more to help. One navigator described it as emotionally taxing to repeatedly tell consumers that came to them looking for assistance that they were too poor to qualify for health insurance.
Immigrants faced verification and language barriers. Immigrants faced many challenges enrolling in coverage. Assisters reported that, when the consumer did not speak English and the assister did not speak the consumer’s native language, using interpreter services was difficult and often ineffective. Language barriers also created difficulty because key terms and concepts associated with health insurance do not translate well. The biggest barrier for immigrants, though, was identity verification. Enrollment assisters had little or no training on how to properly verify IDs or immigration forms. Additionally, technological problems sometimes prevented them from uploading these documents to healthcare.gov. When they were unable to upload these documents electronically, consumers had to verify their immigration status through the mail, which was a long and cumbersome process. There was also a common concern from families of mixed immigration status that sharing information about their families would lead to legal repercussions. Even though none of the immigration or family information shared with the Health Insurance Marketplace is used to identify immigrants that are not here legally, this is a misconception held by many
Confusion and political opposition to Affordable Care Act hindered partnerships. Stakeholders reported that confusion and political hostility created significant barriers to outreach and enrollment. In addition, the passage of the “Health Care Freedom Act” as part of HB 943 in 2014, which included language prohibiting state and local governmental entities from operating a navigator program, among other provisions, led to confusion among local health departments and other governmental entities regarding their participation in helping consumers enroll in health insurance. An earlier version of this legislation that was not enacted, HB 707, was even more restrictive than the final language that passed and the media coverage over that bill added to the confusion. Most of these entities opted for caution, which meant that potentially powerful partnerships for enrollment were missed. This legislation also ended the University of Georgia’s navigator program (The University of Georgia operated a navigator program through its cooperative extension service during OE1).
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