Worries rise on insurance exchanges

April 8, 2013 in Medical Technology

By Jenny Gold, KHN Staff Writer

This KHN story was produced in collaboration with 

When President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to enroll seniors for the new Medicare program he had just signed into law, the story goes that his administration sent out workers on dog sleds to reach people in the remote Alaskan tundra. 

“The Forest Service even had rangers looking for hermits in the woods,” recalled the late Robert Ball, Johnson’s Social Security commissioner, in a documentary on Medicare’s 40th anniversary. 

The plan to insure as many as 27 million Americans under the federal health law beginning this fall will be the biggest expansion of health coverage since that launch. Millions will be eligible to shop for insurance in the new online marketplaces, which open for enrollment Oct. 1 with the coverage taking effect Jan. 1.

But six months before the process begins, questions are mounting about the scope and adequacy of efforts to reach out to consumers – especially in the 33 states that defaulted to the federal government to run their marketplaces, also called exchanges. The Obama administration has said little about outreach plans for those states, and neither the money nor the strategy is apparent.

“I’m getting very worried,” says Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, who studies outreach and enrollment for health programs. “Most health coverage expansions have not reached their target populations very quickly.”

[See also: States crafting HIX financing.]

‘A pittance’

Ron Pollack, executive director of the advocacy group Families USA, and an administration ally, says he is hearing that as little as $40 million to $50 million in federal grants may be available to hire nonprofit groups to work directly with consumers in the states with federally-run marketplaces – a number the administration declined to confirm.

“That’s a pittance compared to what’s needed to make the application process work,” Pollack says. “It doesn’t even scratch the surface” — even in tandem with privately funded efforts.

[See also: States crafting HIX financing.]

That pot of money will cover grants to hire people to help consumers in 33 states with federally-run exchanges, including Texas and Florida, which have some of the nation’s highest uninsured rates. Just for comparison, California has budgeted more than $50 million for ‘in person’ help for consumers this year and next, and another $200 million for outreach and education.

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Article source: http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/questions-mount-insurance-exchanges

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