Obamacare’s open enrollment period has been cut in half and healthcare advertising has been cut by 90 percent, making it harder for the public to understand important deadlines and other information regarding health insurance coverage.
Many Americans actually do qualify for affordable coverage — last year, eight in 10 qualified for financial assistance — but don’t have the resources to know. Lack of consumer awareness about application deadlines, affordability and other important information can lock out the most economically disadvantaged Americans from obtaining health insurance. (Don’t forget that Philadelphia is the country’s poorest big city.)
Briana Morgan, the health professional and digital strategist behind Get Covered Philly, wants to help Philadelphians who qualify for affordable plans and Medicaid obtain accurate information about health insurance. Currently, she and her cofounders Marta Rusek and Nicole Hess manage 50 volunteers for the new initiative and have partnered with Get America Covered, Young Invincibles and Coverage Coalition.
“We are specifically aiming to push people to navigators instead of Healthcare.gov,” Morgan said. “The website has scheduled outages almost every Sunday. We don’t want to send people to the website and have them find out it’s not working.”
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On the marketplace website, people can find a local representative to help them navigate the enrollment process. However, there are two types of navigators, Morgan said: assisters and agents/brokers. Although both are trained and licensed to help applicants enroll in a plan, assisters can help potential applicants also apply for Medicaid and CHIP while agents/brokers, who are paid by insurance companies whose plans they sell, do not.
That means a qualifying Medicaid applicant could visit an agent/broker and enroll under a health insurance plan without knowing they’d qualify for Medicaid at all.
“[Medicaid] also includes a program in Pennsylvania called Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities, which a lot of people don’t know about, that has a much higher income threshold and you can’t get to that program through the Healthcare.gov marketplace,” Morgan said.
Plus, Morgan added that the government website doesn’t have the most up-to-date information, nor does the site have a way for people to submit corrections in order to address the technical problems.
Get Covered Philly’s current goal is to verify navigators, particularly assisters, in every neighborhood in Philadelphia and provide that list to those in need. Once Get Covered Philly is more established, Morgan plans to conduct outreach to churches and traditional community organizations to spread information to those needing healthcare information the most.
Note that Get Covered Philly isn’t creating its own information; Morgan and Co. are just updating and relaying information that in theory, should already be done by the marketplace already.
— Get Covered Philly (@getcoveredphl) November 11, 2017
Similarly to Get Covered Philly’s efforts to connect Philadelphians to navigators, QSPACES, billed as a “Yelp for the LGBTQ community and doctors,” is working toward creating additional patient resources to its platform to navigate health insurance, such as specific health guides catering to queer and trans people’s provider needs.
“Healthcare is expensive in the United States, so when people don’t have insurance to help with payments, they delay care and/or don’t utilize preventative care measures, like seeing a primary care physician for annual checkups,” said Catherine Hoffman, cofounder of QSPACES. “This cycle increases poor health outcomes and visits to the emergency room — or even suffering through sickness, illness and/or pain.”
Morgan said Get Covered Philly will be posting a form on its website for organizations to add themselves to its list of verified navigators. The website will also be updated with health insurance enrollment events, sign-up forms for both individual volunteers and organizations and more.