By Carmen A. Slaybaugh
A lot of questions surround the upcoming Affordable Care Act, especially in the Latino community. U.S. Census figures show it to have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group. That translates into one in every three Latinos not having healthcare.
Compounding the concern is how this largely under-served population is going to learn about the health insurance program that is designed to provide care for all population segments.
Evelyn Guzman, a supervisor with the Hispanic Health Council’s Center for Women and Children’s Health in Hartford, says she sees the struggles her clients face each day trying to access the existing insurance programs and worries about any future ones. “They don’t know if they qualify or what they need to do. Even my English speaking clients have difficulty trying to submit their applications.”
Guzman questions the proposed computer-based application process. “Even if they can use a computer, sometimes there isn’t enough information available for them.”
“Right now there are a lot of unknowns,” said Deb Polun, director of government affairs and media relations with the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut. “Once the (congressional) budget gets finalized, then we will get some answers.”
Tasked with implementing what is known as “Obamacare,” is Access Health CT, chaired by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. Since 2012 the agency has been working on establishing the state’s Health Insurance Exchange, which will be a virtual online store for individuals, families and small business employers to “shop” for insurance coverage. It is slated to start selling policies this October, with coverage to take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
Educating the public on the many insurance carriers, types of plans and other intricacies involved pose a host of problems. Recently, Kevin Counihan, chief executive officer of Access Health CT, announced the award of a $2.1 million grant for an In Person Assistance Program (IPA) outreach program by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The program, required by the law, focuses on those “diverse individuals, who are often in underserved parts of the state, in health insurance coverage.” Under the grant, Access Health CT will train civic, community and faith-based groups in educating these groups about the many options available them, helping them enroll.
In the same announcement, Counihan said the Office of the Healthcare Advocate (OHA) would be overseeing this program and a similar one, the Navigator.
Polun said her agency has not heard of any groups being designated IPAs; however, she does understand Access Health CT wants “to blanket communities throughout the state,” ensuring the message reaches as many as possible.
Access Health CT is taking steps trying to reach consumers. Its website is accessible in over 60 languages. Everything from Spanish, to lesser ones like Irish and Telugu. Access Health CT also recently announced signing a contract with MAXIMUS to provide a toll-free consumer hotline. The company’s representatives, competent in over 100 languages, will assist callers with application issues. MAXIMUS will begin operating in September on a limited basis. It is set to be fully operational in October according to an Access Health CT press release.
In the meantime, it is still a waiting game until Congress passes a budget and Access Health CT and OHA implements a complete and comprehensive outreach program.
“Once they (Access Health CT) get some answers, there might be a number of changes. Right now, we just need to wait and see what happens,” Polun said.
By Carmen A. Slaybaugh