Health centers to help enroll uninsured
10/07/2013 - The Charleston Gazette. By Lori Kersey.
CHARLESTON - When it was time to enroll in Medicaid last week, Brenda, a Hurricane resident, was the first person in line at FamilyCare in Teays Valley.
An insulin-dependent diabetic with no steady income or health insurance, she has been receiving primary care at FamilyCare Health Center since she lost her health insurance in January, when her husband retired. She'd been eagerly awaiting the chance to sign up for health coverage under the state's expanded Medicaid program.
"Medicaid or even health care in general, it's just like a gift," said Brenda, who asked that only first name be printed because of privacy concerns.
Brenda had health insurance for years under her husband's employer-sponsored plan. She lost her income too, when she and her husband divorced earlier this year.
West Virginia's 28 federally qualified health centers treat an estimated 91,000 uninsured people like Brenda.
Officials say the health centers will play a major role in helping them and other uninsured people get enrolled in for insurance under Medicaid or the new Health Insurance Marketplace.
"The health centers have been preparing for the implementation of the ACA for actually several years," said Louise Reese, chief executive officers of the West Virginia Primary Care Association. "As part of the plan, health centers were provided with funding to expand their service and to grow the size of their facilities."
Open enrollment in both Medicaid and the Health Insurance Marketplace started Oct. 1 and will continue through March. Coverage starts in January.
Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes.
Earlier this year, the federal government awarded the state's health centers, which have 226 sites across the state, $1.7 million to hire and train workers to help the uninsured population enroll in health coverage.
Of the 91,000 uninsured people who are treated at health centers in West Virginia, officials estimate that 75 percent will qualify for expanded Medicaid, which is now available to those who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, or $31,322 for a family of four, Reese said.
Of that 75 percent, Reese said, they hope to sign up at least half.
Kelly Belcher is an outreach coordinator for FamilyCare's five locations. The center has 26,000 patients, and about 5,700 of those are uninsured, Belcher said. To get the word out to those uninsured patients, Belcher said they've put up bulletin boards and handed out fliers around their five locations. A postcard will go out to patients on Oct. 8.
"We haven't had a huge response yet," Belcher said. "I think mainly [because] we haven't put the mailing out yet. We didn't do it on purpose, because we thought we'd be bombarded."
The health centers got several calls from people asking questions before Oct. 1, Belcher said.
"I think it's just going to get busier from here on out," Belcher said.
Everyone the health centers have hired is a certified application counselor, which requires between 5 and 10 hours of training. Most of them undergo more training, said Sherri Ferrell, chief financial officer for the Primary Care Association.
"So they're meeting the standard and exceeding it, which is just fantastic," Ferrell said.
Like many people who have tried to sign up in the first few days of open enrollment, Brenda and those helping her ran into technical difficulties using the website, Healthcare.gov. Officials said the high volume of customers shut the website down. But the technical issues haven't stopped everyone from applying.
"We've attempted to and we've actually succeeded in at least helping them make a phone call and apply on the phone," Belcher said. "There are options other than online, so we're just doing what we can to help them."
Employees at some health centers are hosting health fairs, and others are strategizing with local staff members of the Department of Health and Human Resources to help enroll people, Ferrell said.
Health centers are required by law to accept patients regardless of their ability to pay. They receive federal funding to make up what they don't get from patients.
Despite outreach to the uninsured, some will still decide not to enroll in health insurance or Medicaid. The health centers will continue to treat them regardless, Reese said.
Besides a lack of desire, there are other barriers to enrolling the uninsured in coverage, Ferrell said.
"West Virginia doesn't have the broadband and that type of thing in place to always make the online application process so easy," Ferrell said. "So really it's taking those people in the community [through] those paper applications, to sit there and walk them through the process, making sure everyone has the chance to enroll or at least be educated."
Those who would like assistance from a health center to enroll in health coverage may call the Primary Care Association's toll-free number, 1-877-982-4584.