Thousands of people who previously were uninsured can enroll for the first time in comprehensive health insurance under the federal Affordable Health Care Act.
Enrollment began Oct. 1 on the state’s Washington Healthplanfinder, a qualified insurance plan marketplace online. Coverage for newly enrolled Medicaid and regular health insurance applicants will begin Jan. 1.
“We’re all better when everyone has health insurance,” said Beth Wilson, program manager for maternal child health and access to care at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Since Sept. 10, Wilson has been training those who will assist others at various community agencies, including hospitals and clinics.
The Washington Health Benefit Exchange selected the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department last June as one of 10 organizations to train others statewide. The health department received a $680,000 grant from the Exchange to roll out the program in Pierce County.
The award was part of a $6 million grant distributed to the Exchange from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop the program statewide.
“By the end of the September, we will probably train 130 to 140 people in these three weeks,” Wilson said. “It’s been very intense. Often, there are two trainings per day.”
Trained assistants will be located at the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Community Health Care, Comprehensive Health Education Foundation/Salishan Health Advocates; Eatonville Family Agency; Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest; Point Defiance AIDS Project/NASEN; Sea Mar Community Health Centers; South Sound Outreach and MultiCare Health System.
At MultiCare, for example, more than 50 people were trained during an eight-hour period. Those who are trained are then tested and certified by the exchange, Wilson said.
“They are trained on confidentiality and ethical use of websites and working with people,” Wilson said. “Once all their documents are in place, we send their name to the health benefits exchange. The exchange gives them a code to take the test. When they pass the test, they are given a new code to access the (healthplanfinder) portal.”
Courtney Peterson, the administrator of access services at MultiCare, said the highest level of need determined where assistants will be placed.
“We are increasing staff on the clinic side,” Peterson said. “We divided them up based on volume and looked at how many self-pay patients are at each hospital.”
People who visit MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup can expect to see two assistants. Peterson said one will support the Good Samaritan Puyallup clinics.
In addition to coverage at the various hospitals within the system, Peterson added there will be a team of about 10 to 12 assistants at the system’s centralized business office on Fawcett Avenue in Tacoma.
“We’ve been learning a lot over the past couple months,” Peterson said. “It’s been new for all of us. But we feel confident to take it on and be ready for our patients.”
Wilson said about 109,000 people in Pierce County do not have health insurance and more than half will be eligible for coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder. Of those qualified to enroll, 20 percent will need assistance. That’s where the assistants will come in to play.
“In-person assisters are trained on what the Affordable Health Care Act is and how to access insurance and use the website,” Wilson said. “They will be a great general source of information. Providing information is a key part. A real critical part is to sit with a person side by side and help them go online to sign up for health insurance.”
Wilson said the health department will work to provide health care consumer literacy to the public in the long-term. The department’s goal is to ensure all who are eligible receive health insurance.
“We want everyone to have a medical home and to not have to go to an emergency room (for their health care needs),” Wilson said.
Enrollment for qualified health insurance on the new Washington Healthplanfinder began Oct. 1. To learn more about the assistance organizations, visit www.tpchd.org/healthcarereform. MultiCare Health System also has resources at www.multicare.org/home/health-care-reform. For additional help, call the customer support center in Spokane at 1-855-923-4633 between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Assistance is available in up to 175 languages.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.