For Access Health CT, reaching those who need health insurance more difficult, more important in time of COVID

For Access Health CT, reaching those who need health insurance more difficult, more important in time of COVID
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Access Health CT has historically faced hurdles in community outreach even before the coronavirus changed how the state’s insurance exchange engaged with potential clients.

“The hardest group to reach is young Blacks and Latinos,” said James Michel, CEO of the state’s official health insurance marketplace, which was established to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. “There’s a lack of trust in the system.”

Additionally, Michel said that some households that would qualify for plans through Access Health CT are reluctant to engage with them because someone in the family is undocumented.

“There’s a fear of ICE,” he said.[Related] Daily coronavirus updates: Connecticut’s hospitalizations surpass 400; deaths in double digits for third consecutive day »

To ease that mistrust, the agency, whose charge is to help people shop for and enroll in affordable health insurance plans that meet their needs, used census data to identify community agencies and churches in their neighborhoods to get the word out about what they have to offer.

The exchange, which opened enrollment on Sunday, also ran ads on television programs and social media platforms that their targeted demographic tends to view, as well as promoting its product on radio programs and on city buses around the state.

The pandemic forced the agency to shift from mostly in-person to remote enrollments through a virtual educational series in English and Spanish, virtual enrollment events, advertising at gas stations and on hand strategically-located hand sanitizers units.

The exchange has also held in-person enrollment events in the state’s largest cities and advertised at supermarkets, Foodshare, supermarkets and colleges.

Michel said using technology to enroll people who are accustomed to walking into a community center or church to sign up creates a barrier for some customers who might not be technologically savvy.

[Related] Quinnipiac University issues COVID-19 red-alert status; all students ordered to quarantine for 14 days, will be tested next week »

Regardless, Michel said almost 700 people enrolled on Sunday, including about 150 new customers.

“Those are good numbers,” Michel said.

Other numbers are not as positive, including: a 5% increase in enrollments in qualified health plans; a 3% increase in special enrollments related to the loss of health insurance coverage; and a 14% increase in income-dependent HUSKY enrollments —100,000 people — since March.

Hartford businessman Qaid Alselmi, who operates a deli next door to the exchange’s headquarters on Trumbull Street, said Friday that he enrolled his immigrant parents in plans through Access Health CT this week.

“I’m very happy,” Alselmi said. “It’s very affordable.”

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With pandemic-related job losses already at more than 400,000 and expected to grow, Michel said his agency has developed a relationship with the state Department of Labor, which informs them of any large layoffs and then reaches out to those businesses to offer remote services to employer and employees to help them find no-cost or affordable health insurance, including HUSKY.

“If you are eligible, we pass you on to HUSKY,” Michel said. “If not we help you shop for a plan.”

Ultimately, Michel said, he is hopeful that their efforts on multiple fronts result in more people who are eligible for health insurance through Access Health CT making that connection.

Open enrollment is scheduled to end Dec. 15.


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