With the second round of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act approaching next month, Connecticut’s official health insurance marketplace is budgeting nearly $1 million for outreach efforts to help consumers navigate the process.
Access Health CT will spend $973,000 to prepare 450 individuals to help guide consumers throughout the enrollment process, according to figures provided this week by Kathleen Tallarita, the marketplace’s government and public affairs outreach manager.
The biggest chunk of that, $530,000, will go toward Access Health CT storefronts where people can get one-on-one enrollment help. Twenty people will be trained for that purpose. Another $353,000 will go toward training 30 individuals at community enrollment partners, including libraries and community organizations.
Another $90,000 will train and equip 400 people associated with federally qualified health centers and certified application counselors, according to Access Health CT. The price tags associated with each component are expected to cover staffing, training and collateral needs.
Additionally, Access Health CT is partnering with the Connecticut Health Foundation, a Hartford-based nonprofit that advocates for affordable access to healthcare, in an effort to bring more helpers into various communities, according to Tallarita.
The Connecticut Health Foundation awarded 18 organizations a total of $100,000 to support outreach efforts in Hartford, Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven, Shelton, Stratford, Old Saybrook, Waterbury, and Willimantic. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving also gave $50,000 to six organizations, which are helping with outreach.
For many, the help can’t come soon enough. Many questions have arisen as Connecticut consumers acclimate to ACA mandates, which require all individuals nationwide to have health insurance coverage or face penalties.
There have been significant bumps in the road, and Access Health CT has been inundated with inquiries from consumers throughout the rollout process. The marketplace, which was formed in the wake of ACA’s passage, has faced criticism from some who say consumers are being left somewhat in the dark about how to navigate the complicated enrollment process.
Access Health was created specifically to meet the requirements of the controversial ACA, under which states had to establish their own health care marketplace or allow the federal government to operate an exchange on their residents’ behalf.
In August, health care advocates called on Access Health CT board members to invest more money and resources into in-person outreach efforts. The outreach is especially needed, advocates argued, before the second round of enrollment under ACA begins in mid-November.
In the meantime, other groups have begun working to educate consumers as well. The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut hosted “Empowering Consumers: Strengthening Our Voice to Transform Health Care” earlier this week at Quinnipiac University’s Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences in North Haven.
The purpose of the event, organizers said, was to not only educate consumers about how changes in the healthcare landscape affect them but also to spur them to advocacy. The forum included a panel as well as smaller breakout sessions that focused on how attendees can become advocates in their communities.
“Consumers are too often included as an afterthought in health reform,” said Lynne Ide, director of program and policy at the Meriden-based Universal Health Care Foundation, which advocates for universal access to quality health care.
“We believe that consumers should be at the table every step of the way,” she said. “This forum starts an important conversation about how we help equip and empower consumers to make sure their concerns and experiences are front and center as we transform health care.”