Philadelphia to launch health-insurance outreach

President Obama and Mayor Nutter (file photos)
President Obama and Mayor Nutter (file photos)
Posted: November 27, 2013

Come into city offices ranging from the Free Library to the Department of Records over the next few months and you will, in theory, be asked whether you have health insurance and offered information about Obamacare, including the option of getting a call from a specialist trained in enrollment.

The outreach, described by Enroll America, a national nonprofit, as its biggest partnership with a city in support of the Affordable Care Act, will be announced Tuesday by Mayor Nutter.

"It is an amazing way to extend the reach that we have in coming into contact with consumers who have no insurance and may be eligible for insurance in the marketplace," said Bill England, Pennsylvania director for Enroll America. "We know that we are going to come in contact with thousands of people."

He said the move, in the works for months, was a creative way to provide information and was unrelated to the highly publicized woes of Healthcare.gov, the government website.

Mark Duggan, a health economist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said that when Massachusetts' version of universal coverage began, it took a long time to get the word out.

"I think outreach about the Affordable Care Act is really important, because my sense is that there are a lot of people out there who could potentially benefit from it who don't know much about it," said Duggan, who was senior economist for health-care policy at the White House Council of Economic Advisers in 2009 and 2010.

Enroll America, which receives no government funding in Pennsylvania, is concentrating on 11 states, including New Jersey, with large numbers of uninsured residents eligible for subsidized insurance purchased through the exchanges set up by the federal law. England called the Philadelphia initiative a pilot program that would be watched by chapters in other states.

Under the plan, all people who come into any of seven city offices to do business - Housing and Community Development, Records, Community Life Improvement Programs, the Mayor's Commission on Aging, Community Empowerment Offices, Free Library branches, and City Council offices - will be asked whether they have insurance. If they say no, they will be given a brief description of the Affordable Care Act, offered literature, and told that an enrollment specialist from a different nonprofit will contact them if they want.

England said that 70 city employees had been trained so far, and that they were already asking visitors about health coverage.

The organization, with 11 staffers in Pennsylvania, has tried various ways to get the word out, including faith-based efforts and working with community colleges. It has had about 5,000 direct contacts with consumers since Sept. 1, England said.

In New Jersey, where an additional 11 staff members have reached almost as many people, pastors have been preaching about the importance of health insurance on the second Sunday of every month, said Justine Ceserano, the state director there, as they have in some other states.

About 210,000 Philadelphia residents, 18 percent of the city's population, are uninsured, and roughly half are eligible for subsidies on the exchange, said Donald F. Schwarz, deputy mayor for health and opportunity. The city already was training enrollment experts in community health centers and libraries, he said, "because the number-one reason people go to libraries is for health information."

The new partnership "is an important effort by the city to do everything possible" to ensure that uninsured residents get insurance, he said. "I think that we would be irresponsible not to try everything."


dsapatkin@phillynews.com

215-854-2617 @DonSapatkin

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