Outreach and education essential to success
Open enrollment for the new MNsure health exchange program is slated to start this October.
“This process of creating a Minnesota [health] exchange was a lengthy one,” states Stairstep Foundation CEO Alfred Babington-Johnson, a member of the health insurance exchange advisory task force. “The State of Minnesota was one of the first states” to work on developing an exchange since the Affordable Care Act became law three years ago, beginning with the formation of the task force.
According to the state website (see below), “MNsure will be a simple, easy-to-use marketplace” for consumers to find the right health plans that suit their needs through a five-step process: 1) access the website for selection; 2) review health plans; 3) select a plan; 4) check to see if you qualify for tax credits or other health programs; and 5) complete the enrollment process.
Babington-Johnson says that at least 31 percent of the state’s uninsured are low-income persons and people of color. MNsure “ought to be an important central strategy to make sure that we reach the uninsured,” he believes. “Then, how to engage those people needs to be more imaginative.”
Babington-Johnson, Take Action Minnesota Health Care Program Manager Sarah Greenfield and others have recently met to discuss how “navigators” or “in-person assistance” programs can be utilized locally.
Navigators “are included in the legislation that was passed,” explains Babington-Johnson. National healthcare advocates such as Families USA and Enroll America also are promoting the use of navigators by local organizations to help low-income individuals and families of color get properly enrolled, beginning this fall.
“There are going to be a number of different kinds of help available to people who want to know what their options are and get enrolled in public or private health coverage programs,” adds Greenfield. “Some of it will be in person, where you can walk in the door of an organization, hopefully in your neighborhood…
“You will be able to walk in the door, sit down with somebody, and have them explain to you what is on the website. You will be able to call a call center and have somebody answer basic questions or help connect you to one of those helpers.
“I think there is going to be a high rate of folk who want in-person assistance,” she predicts.
“These navigators…as much as possible [should be] community-based,” says Babington-Johnson. “I’ve got a sense that is the direction in which this process is leaning.”
He surmises that just setting up the exchange will not solve all the problems of the uninsured becoming insured. “Several of us, including organizations like Take Action Minnesota, SEIU, the Urban League and Catholic Charities are concerned that in addition to enrollment, some education and outreach is needed [for] a successful exchange,” he points out.
“This is not simply going to be a matter of enrolling people. There [are] some cultural issues…[such as] whether or not there is a history in the family of not being insured or some kind of subtext issue.
“We think, particularly [among] those who are low-income, there need to be a very intentional process of outreach and education that occurs.”
For more information, go to the MNsure website, www.mn.gov/hix.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]