With HealthCare.gov mostly fixed after its glitch-ridden rollout, outreach campaigns are now doubling efforts to get Americans enrolled in the online marketplaces provided through the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
One of the organizations now involved in outreach efforts is Enroll America. It plans to connect with uninsured residents in Ohio and 10 other states to help them get covered, even if it requires sitting down with individuals in person and walking them through the enrollment process right on the spot.
The campaign could decide whether Obamacare reaches targeted levels of young adults. White House officials previously said about 39 percent of Obamacare enrollees need to be young adults aged 18 through 34; otherwise Obamacare’s marketplaces risk burdening insurance providers with too many older, sicker enrollees that would use up health care resources and drive up costs.
By the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ December count, both Ohio and the nation are failing to meet the demographic goals. With enrollment open through March, supporters and outreach campaigns like Enroll America now have less than two months to reverse the trend.
To get a better grasp of Enroll America’s efforts, CityBeat spoke with Trey Daly, state director for the group’s Ohio operations.
CityBeat: Why do you think these kinds of outreach efforts are necessary?
Trey Daly: What we found before and what we’re still finding out (through surveys) is the vast majority of the uninsured still indicate huge gaps in knowledge about the Affordable Care Act. For instance, it appears that still about 72 percent of the uninsured are not clear about the financial assistance that’s available through the Affordable Care Act — either the tax credits to help them pay their premiums or free coverage through the Medicaid program.
When they’re asked why they haven’t enrolled yet, the typical answer is, “I can’t afford the coverage.” But then when you explain to folks that there are these tax credits available and they may qualify for Medicaid, they start to understand that it is affordable, and they are much more inclined to follow through and enroll.
CB: Are there any specific Ohio-centric outreach plans? I know in Kentucky, for example, they put Obamacare advertisements on bourbon. Are there any plans like that for Ohio?
TD: Well, a significant difference between Kentucky and Ohio is that the state of Ohio has not really committed itself to the success of the health insurance marketplace in the way that Kentucky has. So I think the kind of initiative you described has mostly been a product of the Kynect program in Kentucky, which is the state-based marketplace.
We don’t have that in Ohio. So we have far fewer resources in Ohio to support advertising, outreach and enrollment for uninsured folk.So I’m not aware of something similar to that happening in Ohio. I know that there are a lot of folks on the ground like Enroll America that are trying to think of creative ways to connect with people and get them the health insurance information that they need.
But we’re not the home of bourbon here in Ohio.
CB: What are some specific examples of outreach events?
TD: One of the key demographics in all of this is younger adults aged up to 35. So some of the outreach and enrollment that we’ve been focusing on is targeted to that demographic. For instance, on Feb. 10 in Columbus we are doing an event called “Get Covered Artists.” It’s being held at the Columbus College of Art and Design. We’re reaching out to all of the arts organizations in Columbus encouraging artists, many of whom are self-employed, underemployed or unemployed and without health insurance through their job, to come and get the information they need and help get enrolled.
It’s similar to an event we did a couple months ago in Cincinnati with the Know Theatre. We had an enrollment event there.
Also, locally in Cincinnati, we regularly have folks at Cincinnati State, which unlike the traditional four-year colleges does not require students to have health insurance. We’ve had one enrollment event there and we’re hoping to have another in the next couple of weeks.
CB: How did Obamacare’s website rollout affect your campaign?
TD: Certainly, that was not a good thing. It certainly did not create the right vibe in terms of rolling this all out. But, actually, Enroll America did just complete some really interesting research on this. What we found is that seven out of 10 of the uninsured had not attempted to enroll at all yet. So 70 percent of the uninsured did not encounter any glitches on HealthCare.gov. Now, they may have heard some bad things on the news, and that may have discouraged them, but they didn’t actually themselves encounter any problems.
So while the glitches in the website were extremely unfortunate, that doesn’t explain the whole picture.
CB: Does it worry you that there might not be enough young adults enrolling?
TD: It worries me on a couple of fronts. One, that the whole idea of insurance is that you have lots of mostly healthy people participating in insurance so that there are enough resources in the pool to support the needs of the minority of the people who are going to use lots and lots of resources.
But, more importantly, I’m concerned about it for those young adults who are going to go without health coverage. I want them to get the coverage that will make their lives better.
CB: How do you reach out to young adults, particularly those that carry on this idea that they’re invincible and don’t need insurance?
TD: There’s a few options, but what we found is the most effective way to talk to young adults is to talk about health coverage in terms of financial security. We know that the leading cause of bankruptcy and foreclosure is medical debt. We know that if you have a lot of medical debt on your credit report, it affects your ability to get a job, credit, insurance and housing.
So if you have the opportunity to pay a $50 premium a month for comprehensive health coverage, when you put it in the context of financial security, folks in that age demographic seem to be more responsive and understand better how it’s in their self-interest.
CB: How much political opposition have you run into?
TD: I’ve been surprised by how little of that there has been. I was doing a presentation someplace in northeastern Ohio, and I noticed a couple in the audience, and the husband turned to the wife and said, “That’s socialism.” What’s surprising is they stayed for the whole thing and came and asked me question afterward. Whatever their political background was, they realized, “Wait a minute. We need health coverage. There might be something in there for us.” ©