Cheered on by Mayor Mark Holland, community leaders here kicked off an effort this week to enroll thousands of Wyandotte County residents in the new health insurance marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act.
“This has been a big win at the federal level,” Holland said of health reform. “And now, we have the opportunity to make it real on the grassroots level here in Kansas City, Kan.”
The meeting, held Tuesday at City Hall, drew about 30 people from organizations including the library, school district, social service agencies, churches, and courts. Stephene Moore, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also attended.
Organizers are calling the outreach effort Enroll Wyandotte. They used the kick-off meeting to brainstorm ways to reach residents who might be eligible for the subsidized health insurance offered through the marketplace.
“The people who are the most difficult to reach are the people who need it the most,” said Wesley McKain, who is helping to lead the effort through his role as program coordinator for Healthy Communities Wyandotte, a four-year-old initiative aimed at improving the indicators that have been used to rank Wyandotte one of the unhealthiest counties in the state.
One place to reach people is at the motor vehicle office in the Wyandotte County Courthouse, said Sheryl Bussell, court trustee for Wyandotte District Court. Her office handles child support from space in the courthouse.
She recommended that Enroll Wyandotte representatives come the last two days of each month, when the rush of last-minute registrants swells the motor-vehicles line and makes for some long waits.
Bussell said her work allows her to see what can happen in families that don’t have health insurance.
Someone who gets sick and has a job with no sick leave might end up getting fired, she said, “and then we have a mess in child support to deal with.”
Other ideas discussed at the meeting included:
• Getting information to Medicare recipients who might have younger spouses, and making that effort now during the open-enrollment period for Medicare.
• Including information about the marketplaces in neighborhood association newsletters
• Combining enrollment with some of the other computer-based programs that the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Authority is beginning to offer with partners in its new technical training facility
• Collecting old laptops that can be refurbished for help in enrolling people
The Enroll Wyandotte campaign must persist in getting information in front of residents who might eligible for insurance through the marketplace, said Tom Scott, executive director of the housing authority. Otherwise, he said, the opportunity will be out of sight, out of mind for them.
Glitches have plagued the online market places since they opened Oct. 1, but officials in Kansas have said the system is slowly improving.
Nearly 190,000 uninsured Kansans could purchase private coverage through the marketplace, according to an analysis by the Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of the KHI News Service.
Eligibility for federal tax credits starts at 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which is $19,500 in annual income for a family of three.
Open enrollment in the marketplace plans runs through March 31.
Wyandotte County has about 40,000 uninsured residents, and Enroll Wyandotte organizers estimate that as many as 18,000 of them will be eligible to purchase insurance through the marketplace.
Enroll Wyandotte would like to get as many as 75 percent of those eligible residents enrolled, McKain said.
An immediate plan is to have literature available during parent-teacher conferences in the Kansas City, Kan. public schools this week, he said.
Parents of younger children are one key target demographic, McKain said. They are likely to fall into the category of young, healthy people who traditionally are less likely than other groups to purchase health insurance.
The Affordable Care Act, however, requires most people in the country to have health insurance if they can afford it or pay a tax penalty.
“Those people are the hardest to reach and a lot of that age group has kids that are in elementary school,” he said. “And so if those parents come to these parent-teacher conferences, we can give this information out to them.”
Next steps in the campaign, McKain said, include scheduling more outreach events and getting interested individuals trained to help people enroll.
Regional HHS Director Moore said federal officials have known all along that local efforts would be key to finding eligible applicants.
“I am thrilled to see this,” she said.
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