Health officials here estimate that Wyandotte County has about 27,000 people without health insurance and they are hoping that Obamacare and the new insurance marketplace soon expected to be operating in Kansas can help change that.
“We assume quite a few (of the 27,000) are going to be able to qualify” for subsidies through the marketplace, said Joe Connor, director of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County Health Department.
The marketplace, which federal officials have pledged will be ready to launch on schedule Oct. 1, is aimed at making affordable health coverage available to thousands of Kansans who otherwise might not have it.
Nationally, the state marketplaces — also sometimes called insurance exchanges — are expected to serve millions of Americans and are a key component of the Affordable Care Act, which became law in 2010.
‘Misinformation and polarization’
Officials here have a task force that earlier this month began planning ways to get the word out about the exchange to some of the people considered most likely to benefit from it.
The panel is part of the Healthy Communities Wyandotte initiative and is chaired by former Kansas Medicaid Director Barb Langner. She now works at the University of Kansas Medical Center but is working on the initiative as a volunteer.
Langner said the group doesn’t want to duplicate public-awareness work that will be done by others, including the federal government and the Kansas Insurance Department, but that a local touch is needed if everyone in the county is to be reached.
“This is a county that's used to creating some local solutions,” Langner said. “I think the statewide (public outreach) effort will be all well and good, but there are some pockets of people you will not reach unless you have local involvement. A lot of people are not going to go to a public meeting about this. It has to be a little more user friendly.”
Langner said the task force hopes to provide easily understandable information about the exchange to people who already are trusted in the neighborhoods so they can disseminate it to likely exchange users.
“I think because of the misinformation and uncertainty and sort of the polarization on this topic, it’s going to take someone who is trusted to explain it. And you're going to be dealing people that most likely don't have a lot of familiarity with insurance products, so I think personal contact with someone they trust will be important,” Langner said.
“Our role is to get whatever information has been produced to the people who have the contacts in the community. The logical places are churches, perhaps daycares, schools, small businesses, salons. We’re still in the planning phase right now,” she said.<a name="continued"></a>
Little time left
Whatever the group does will need to happen soon, because Oct. 1 is looming. The coverage plans offered through the marketplace become effective starting Jan. 1, which isn’t too distant in time, either.
“It’s a resources question but also a communication question,” Connor said. “How do we reach folks with the right kind of information? The biggest challenge is that the information remains pretty fluid. They (federal officials) haven't quite finalized what the product is going to look like or what the sign-up and enrollment is going to be.”
Langner and Connor of the health department said the effort has the support of Mayor Mark Holland. One of his top aides is a member of the task force.
“It will be interesting to see how successful we can be,” Langner said. “Right now, there's nothing organized and nothing tailored to Wyandotte County and that's really what we're trying to accomplish.”
Multiple education efforts underway
The task force’s efforts are meant to augment other public outreach efforts underway or expected, Langner said.
Federal officials last week announced they had awarded nearly $900,000 in so-called “navigator” grants to Kansas groups tasked with playing a formal role in the government’s effort to rollout the exchanges.
In Kansas, the subsidies will be available to those with annual earnings between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
For individuals, that means earnings between about $11,000 and about $46,000. For a family of four, that would mean those with annual household incomes between about $22,000 on the low end and $92,000 on the high end.
According to estimates by researchers at the Kansas Health Institute, the parent organization of KHI News Service, there are about 149,000 currently uninsured Kansans who could get coverage and credits through the exchange and another 44,000 who currently have individual policies. That’s a total of about 193,000 Kansans.
Families USA, a pro-reform lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., have estimated that even more Kansans will be eligible for premium tax credits. Its estimate is 250,000 people.
The groups — Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, Advanced Patient Advocacy, and Ascension Health — are expected to help guide people to and through the marketplace, where insurances plans can be compared and purchased online.
Federal officials also began this summer training and certifying “application counselors” at organizations interested in helping people enroll in exchange plans.
Also in July, federal officials announced $1.6 million in grants to 14 Kansas health clinics to help them enroll people in coverage.
In Kansas, three insurance companies are expected to offer plans on the marketplace: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s dominant private health insurer; Coventry Health Care of Kansas; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, which offers plans in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
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