« March 2014 Issue

Take a Bow, Consumer Health Advocates!

Today, March 31 2014, marks the final day of the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act. It is a historic moment and one worth celebrating! In spite of a rocky technological start, millions of Americans have enrolled in health care coverage that provides health and financial security for them and their families. This is a victory for consumers, an advance in social justice, and a reason for pride among all the people that helped make this day possible. The health care advocacy community should take a bow for playing a leading role in this inaugural ACA enrollment effort.

State advocates and enrollers came together in a phenomenal effort, spanning urban, rural and suburban communities across the country. The amount of public resources dedicated to enrollment varied widely between states, yet the advocacy community, as always, strived to do the best with what was available. Fortunately, support from philanthropic foundations such as Robert Wood Johnson, Missouri Foundation for Health, Open Society Institute and the funders of the Affordable Care Act Implementation Fund bolstered enrollment efforts throughout the country. There are too many state success stories to name – from leaders like California and New York to southern standouts such as North Carolina, Kentucky and Alabama. Even in Florida, after state officials took the Affordable Care Act to the U.S. Supreme Court, advocates proved everyone wrong by exceeding expectations in their enrollment efforts.

It has been a jam-packed six months of enrollment fairs, conference calls, coalition meetings, trainings, Navigator/CAC certifications, community events and media appearances. While more time is needed to digest the last six months and take stock, we did want to share a few lessons learned:

Affordability and financial help makes the difference

For decades, we knew that the high cost of insurance was a barrier for the uninsured. If nothing else, ACA open enrollment validated that fact and proved that when the cost of health insurance comes down, people enroll. Story after story showed consumers’ amazement at the low cost of their plans and the palpable relief at how much they were saving. Many consumers, some who were getting health insurance for the first time in their lives, said something along the lines of, “I can finally afford it.” Our advocates worked hard to get out the message  that financial help is available to consumers and it made a difference.

Innovative partnerships and creative strategies are essential

Advocates and enrollers across the nation reached new creative heights during open enrollment, both in their willingness to join with unexpected partners and in the imaginative content they developed to enroll consumers. In Michigan, advocates developed a mobile messaging system to support consumers in enrolling in health coverage, while in Maine, a whiteboard video helped consumers understand how the Marketplace works. New Jersey advocates hired previously unemployed veterans to spread the word about the ACA. Alabama and Pennsylvania harnessed the energy of college students and volunteer trainers to enroll and educate thousands of people. Advocates in Missouri built strong relationships with a wide variety of health care providers, while Colorado’s Blue Guide showed consumers where they could go to find in-person enrollment assistance. These strategies are just a small sampling of the creative energies unleashed during a busy first open enrollment period.   

Our work is not done

For all our well-deserved excitement, we know our work is not completed. From helping consumers understand how to use their health insurance, to continuing to enroll people who are eligible for Medicaid or who experience a major life change, we have other mountains to climb. The good news is that we’ve begun to lay a solid foundation for years to come.

As the health system continues to change and transform under the Affordable Care Act, we must remember to pause and mark significant milestones. Last week was the fourth anniversary of the passage of the law and this week we are celebrating the successful enrollment of millions of people. As the curtain closes on the first open enrollment period, we can be proud that there has been substantial progress toward our shared goal: access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage for all.

-- Lucy Cox-Chapman, communications manager

O N   T H E   W I R E

Community Catalyst and 300 state and local groups sent a letter urging Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to ensure all consumers who have made a good faith effort to get covered can enroll in coverage. Last week HHS announced anyone who is “in line” for coverage on March 31 will be able to enroll.

Community Catalyst welcomed Dan McGrath, Executive Director of TakeAction Minnesota, as the newest member of our board of directors.

Community Catalyst Board member Karen Hicks, project manager for Covering New Hampshire, was quoted in an NPR story on ACA enrollment in New Hampshire.

Edna and Sally’s story, a video created by Voices for Better Health, was featured on The Huffington Post during Black History Month.

The Association of Health Care Journalists took note of Dental Access Project Director David Jordan and other oral health advocates’ efforts to expand access to care.

Join us in welcoming new staff members: Alberto Gonzalez, Carol Regan, Candice Singer and Natasha Tyagi.

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