As the Affordable Care Act is implemented nationwide, millions of uninsured Americans will have a variety of health-care options to choose from. A healthier, insured population will bring a myriad of short- and long-term benefits to Maryland and the U.S.
“Think of the [Maryland Health Benefit Exchange] as Travelocity or Expedia for health care and new health options that are available,” said Joe DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.
The hurdle, however, is getting the word out and explaining a complex system to a diverse population that has little or no experience with health insurance.
“There has to be a lot of outreach, and you have to meet the people where they are,” said Tracey Paliath, director of economic services at Jewish Community Services, one of many organizations that will be helping the community understand the new options.
It is estimated that about 800,000 people, 14 percent of Maryland’s population of 5.8 million, are uninsured.
Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Maryland Health Connection, the state’s online insurance marketplace, announced a statewide, multimedia marketing and outreach campaign. The goal of the campaign is to inform Marylanders about the importance of health coverage, plan choices and financial assistance available during open enrollment, which begins Oct. 1 and ends on March 31, 2014. Those who enroll before Dec. 18 will have coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
In addition to radio, print and television advertising, the effort includes a social media campaign and partnerships with the Baltimore Ravens, Giant and CVS. An estimated 180,000 people are expected to enroll in qualified health plans within the first year, and another 100,000 are expected to enroll in Medicaid as a result of the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Nonprofit HealthCare Access Maryland is tasked with reaching and signing up uninsured Marylanders in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, approximately 217,000 people.
Kathleen Westcoast, HCAM’s president and CEO, said the goal in the first year is to sign up 18,000 to 20,000 people in the city and about 15,000 in the county. To do that, HCAM and its 16 partners have hired about 107 navigators and assisters. Navigators can sign people up for health plans and Medicaid and assisters can sign people up only for Medicaid. They will be setup with laptops and Internet connectivity throughout the area, so they can register people wherever they are; the community partners will help
determine where the navigators and assisters go.
“We’re relying on organizations that have expertise and tentacles into their communities,” Westcoast said. “We want to tap into their knowledge and expertise.”
Although not a formal partner, JCS is working with HCAM to get the word out in the Jewish community.
“We want to be trained because we know a lot of people will turn to us,” said Barbara Gradet, executive director of JCS. “The resources are out there, but we need all hands on deck.”
She said JCS has been thinking of ways to use JCC facilities as well as its staff to carry out HCAM’s mission.
Paliath, JCS’s director of economic services, said it’s important that the information comes from within the Jewish community since most prefer to get their human services needs met in a Jewish context. To that end, she envisions JCS benefits counselors as well as organizations such as the JCC, CHAI and the Baltimore Jewish Council working on outreach. In addition, synagogues will be contacted to see how the JCS can best work with them to get the word out. The idea is to make sure no segment of the community is left untouched.
“Not everybody who is a member of a synagogue is a member of the JCC,” Paliath said.
The Baltimore Jewish Council held an interfaith informational session in May at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, where almost 200 leaders across the religious spectrum heard from Congressman Elijah Cummings, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua Sharfstein and various other officials.
“I think everybody is looking for ways to get the information out, the correct information and how to best access the exchange,” said Cailey Locklair, BJC’s director of government relations.
Support for universal health care in the Jewish community goes back long before the Affordable Care Act. Locklair said the BJC adopted a congruent policy in the early 1990s.
“The Jewish community felt it was important to ensure that those, regardless of ability to pay, would be able to access a health-care system,” she said.
She said the BJC will tap into its existing network to implement more community-based health programs to ensure uninsured Marylanders get primary care, one of the most important types of preventative care.
DeMattos, whose organization advocates for long-term care providers, said the Affordable Care Act will begin correcting disparities in the health-care system.
“The exchange and the beginning innovations of the Affordable Care Act expand access to care and provide a standard for credible coverage, but that’s only part of the equation,” he said. “The other part of the equation is increasing the overall wellness of a broad cross-section of Marylanders and Americans. We still, today, have incredible health-care disparity amongst different income and ethnic groups.”
Gradet believes these changes are long overdue.
“This country has been struggling with health care a long, long time, and it’s kind of embarrassing where we are in the world,” she said. “With developed nations, we’re way, way behind.”