$300,000 grant will help city and community partners with education and enrollment

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission joined community members and officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Massachusetts Health Connector at a local barbershop in Jamaica Plain’s Egleston Square to kick off the City of Boston’s outreach efforts to educate residents about new insurance options available as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  Earlier this year, the Boston Public Health Commission applied for and was awarded just over $300,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Health Connector to help consumers understand new coverage options and find the most affordable coverage that meets their needs.

Staff from the Mayor’s Health Line at BPHC will lead the outreach efforts along two fronts – enroll the uninsured in coverage and transition those with certain types of coverage into new options.  Because of the rules established by federal health care reform, some people that are already enrolled in a state-sponsored insurance plan as part of Massachusetts’ own health reform efforts in 2006 must now reapply for plans in the new Health Insurance Marketplace that opened nationally on Tuesday.  Open enrollment will last until March 31, 2014.

“Massachusetts led the way in providing access to health insurance, and in Boston we know how important it is for our most vulnerable residents to have coverage,” Commissioner Ferrer said.  “The federal mandate is an opportunity to build on the success we’ve had locally, but we need to work together to spread the word about changes so that people don’t fall through the cracks.”

Over the next several months, state-certified “navigators” in Boston will reach out to individuals, families, and local businesses to make them aware of how the changes impact different people.  Those who are uninsured or have Commonwealth Care, Health Safety Net, or Mass Health could all be eligible for new coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

To reach people where they live, work, play, and pray, the city plans to conduct outreach through the Boston Public Library, Boston Public Schools, Main Streets, faith-based organizations, and other community partners.

Jose Alberto Rojas, owner of Alberto’s Barbershop, which hosted today’s announcement, is one of the people that stands to benefit from the new coverage options.  The Small Business Health Insurance Options Program, or SHOP, gives certain small employers and their employees better access to high quality health plans that are affordable.  Mr. Rojas will also help inform his customers of the new changes taking place.

Navigators from the Mayor’s Health Line can answer questions and explain coverage options, provide personalized information about eligibility, assist with application and enrollment in the right plan, and help people find health care providers.  Representatives are available by phone at 617-534-5050 or 1-800-847-0710 or by email at mayorshealthline@bphc.org.  Free and confidential services are being offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean Creole, and several other languages.

“If you’re seeking insurance coverage or have questions about the new options we want to make sure there’s no wrong door,” said Dr. Ferrer.  “We’re not only offering a single point of entry to get information through the Mayor’s Health Line.  We’re also actively going out into the community to educate folks that can then become ambassadors for their neighbors.”

It is estimated that up to 97 percent of adults, and a slightly higher percentage of children, in Boston are currently insured.  However, Boston has the largest total number of uninsured residents compared to other cities and towns in the Commonwealth.  Part of this disparity has to do with the fact that Boston is the biggest city in the state, with a population that includes many immigrants and is on average younger, more racially diverse, and of lower income.  Such groups tend to have lower rates of insurance coverage.

BPHC, the largest recipient of funding through the state’s Navigator grant program, was one of ten organizations selected statewide to help implement outreach and enrollment efforts.  Fifteen local community health centers also received funding to provide individual and family insurance navigation.

Nationally, the Affordable Care Act is expected to help 32 million Americans gain access to health care.