Tag Archives: Health Care Reform

Health Organizations Prepare to Enroll Maryland Uninsured in Obamacare

By Kirsten Petersen
Capital News Service

COLLEGE PARK – Several health organizations in Maryland are preparing to provide one-on-one, in-person assistance to help uninsured and underinsured residents enroll in new health care plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Beginning Oct. 1, individuals who do not have access to health insurance through their employer will be able to shop for coverage through the Maryland Health Connection, an online marketplace that matches applicants with options that fit their budget and the needs of their families.

Maryland is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia that have established their own marketplaces with competitive rates. The rest of the country will enroll in new insurance plans through the federal government’s health insurance marketplace.

The marketplace was designed to meet the demands of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which requires all Americans—except for those with religious or income exemptions—to have health insurance or face a penalty.

“It’s hard to tell people ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t have anything you qualify for,’” said Kathleen Westcoat, the CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland. “Now there will be an option for everybody.”

To ensure that consumers are able to make well-informed decisions on insurance purchases, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange awarded $24 million in grants to six organizations—called connector entities—that will specialize in enrolling residents in health insurance plans.

The six organizations, which each represent a region of the state, will use the grant funds to hire more than 300 new staff members to assist with enrollment.

New hires will be “navigators” and “assisters.” Navigators are certified and trained professionals who will counsel applicants and enroll them in qualified health plans. Assisters are non-certified staff who will provide information and assistance for residents enrolling in expanded Medicaid.

Navigators and assisters must complete 40 hours of training and pass an exam before they can work with applicants. They will then be equipped with Wi-Fi enabled laptops and sent out to community events, schools, churches, libraries and other public spots.

HealthCare Access Maryland, a nonprofit agency dedicated to improving the state’s health care delivery system, received a $7.9 million grant to hire 107 navigators and assisters, who will be tasked with assisting approximately 217,000 uninsured residents in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

Westcoat said that the mobility of the navigators and assisters will be critical to the success of the enrollment effort.

“We don’t envision having staff sitting in offices here. They will be out and about in the community, so they need to have technology,” Westcoat said.

The outreach strategy isn’t limited to the work of navigators and assisters. In Baltimore City, all public school students will receive information about the new health care options to bring home to their parents and school nurses will be educated about the Maryland Health Connection. By “training the trainer,” Westcoat said, the state can ensure that children and their parents are educated about their options.

“What is most successful is meeting people where they are, developing a rapport and fully explaining the options,” Westcoat said.

In Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, staff members will be stationed at agencies, pharmacies and libraries, but will also be highly accessible by phone. The lower Eastern Shore’s program hotline directs callers to the cellphones of navigators and assisters, who all live in the region’s three counties.

“Our strategy has been based on being accessible,” said Katherine Gunby, the program coordinator for the Lower Shore Health Insurance Assistance Program. “We live in an extremely rural area where there are lots of isolated towns and communities. We’re trying to be available where people are.”

Westcoat said her region’s first year goal is to enroll between 50,000 and 60,000 residents, while Gunby’s region is hoping to enroll 5,300 people.

Until Oct. 1, connector entities will focus on educating partners and community organizations about the Affordable Care Act and the Maryland Health Connection.

“We know in our community that personal, face-to-face assistance is really going to be meaningful and help a lot of people, so having that availability and enhancing the state’s work at the regional level will be critical to helping people where they are,” Gunby said.


Kratovil Votes Against Health Care Bill

Disappointed Democrats decried U.S. Representative Frank Kratovil’s vote against the health care bill HR3962, which passed in the U.S House of Representatives with a five-vote margin. President Barack Obama, in an e-mail to his supporters, said the vote made history. Kratovil’s vote brought disappointment for many Democrats in the 1st District, which includes the nine counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and parts of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties.

Carl Widell, chairman of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee, said it is safe to say that Democrats in the county are disappointed. “Democrats are very disappointed with his vote,” he said. “But it’s not the final vote. The Senate has to come up with a bill, and then it will go to conference. He has a history of voting no on these kinds of bills, then on the final vote, voting with the party.”

Catherine Poe, president of the Talbot County Democratic Forum, also is disappointed. “Passing this bill was historic by any measure,” she said. “It’s a defining moment for our country, and I’m sorry to see he didn’t see fit to vote for it at this time and be part of the history-making process. For his constituents in the 1st District, it’s a real letdown.”

Poe, along with other local Democrats and more than a few Republicans, supported Kratovil during his campaign. At the forum’s annual meeting in 2008, U.S Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, endorsed the former Queen Anne’s County prosecutor and gave him a $3,000 check for his campaign. Kratovil said at that meeting he wanted to fix health care problems before the cost affects middle-class families. He also said at a July fundraiser that principle is more important than party, and said throughout the campaign that he votes on fairness, not politics.

Still, most of the local Democratic leaders said that, while disappointed, they believe Kratovil will vote with his party in the end. “He’s really cutting it close here and making people uncomfortable,” said Joyce Scharch, head of the United Democratic Women’s Club. “But I’m absolutely sure he will come around before it’s finalized. That came from his office, and I’m hoping they won’t back down on their word.” Scharch spent time e-mailing people and urging them to call, write or e-mail the congressmen to support the bill.

In a statement, Kratovil said he supported health care reform but not a bill that does not lower health care spending. “I was not able to support the bill before Congress today because I do not believe it meets my criteria for a sustainable solution,” he said. “While I recognize the need for reform and I applaud some aspects of this bill, I do not believe that this bill offers a sustainable solution. I will continue to work with my colleagues to pursue a better bill as this process continues, and I urge constituents to continue to offer their input.”

“He told me he was going to vote no,” Poe said. “I did speak to him and try to tell him why I felt he should be voting for this bill, but he had already made up his mind. We did have a discussion and I disagree. Kratovil did not think the bill was fiscally responsible, Poe said. A member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kratovil called for pay-as-you-go economic policies during his campaign, and continues to show fiscal restraint. “It’s the prosecutor in him,” Scharch said. “He’s dealing with strictly facts, but you have to give a little to get a little. Don’t lose the bill for a couple little things we can work it out later.”