Boston Public Health Commission gets $300K grant to aid health insurance enrollment

10/16/2013, 12:01 p.m.
The Boston Public Health Commission and the Mayor’s Health Line are reaching out to Boston’s uninsured. The Mayor’s Health Line has certified “navigators” trained to help people enroll in new health-care insurance plans that are part of the Affordable Care Act. (Left to right) Javier Gutierrez (navigator), Bradley Moore (project manager), Beatrice Martin (navigator), Sujay Bernardino (administrative assistant). (Yawu Miller photo) Photo by Yawu Miller

In addition, BPHC and the navigators will actively reach out to Boston individuals, families and local businesses to make them aware of how the Affordable Care Act changes impact them.

As Moore points out, the new law also dictates that some people who already have state-sponsored health insurance as part of Massachusetts’ own health reform efforts in 2006 must now reapply for plans that are part of the federal mandate. The state-sponsored insurance plans affected include Commonwealth Care, Health Safety Net and Mass Health.

BPHC also plans to reach out to people in the community and will conduct outreach through the Boston Public Library, Boston Public Schools, community groups, faith-based organizations and other partners.

The Mayor’s Health Line is also reaching out directly to small businesses to help them understand what — if any — insurance options they can offer to employees.

The Mayor’s Health Line has seven full-time navigators — BPHC was able to increase this number from three to seven thanks to the $300,000 in grant money.

For Gerry Thomas, director of the community initiatives bureau at BPHC, the additional employees are a massive boost in the commission’s efforts to reach the uninsured.

“Most of the money is for staff and it basically allowed us to double in size,” she said. “It also allowed us to add someone dedicated to small business.”

According to Thomas, the ultimate goal is to reach every Boston resident with the awareness campaign to make sure they understand their insurance options, though she admits it is likely many will still not enroll.

“I think we would like to be enrolling several thousand people at the very least,” Thomas said. “We would want to directly get a quarter or half of the city.”

Since the Mayor’s Health Line started its outreach efforts last week, navigators have already contacted 2,500 people, according to Thomas.

“We are interested in everybody, but we are particularly interested in immigrants, people with low income and people who speak a primary language other than English,” said Thomas.

“The statistics show that the highest rate of uninsured is a young, Latino male who is working so we are trying to reach out [to that population].”

With just six months until the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act is scheduled to close, Thomas emphasized that BPHC does not have much time to get the word out and help the uninsured. So efforts are being ramped up.

“Getting people successfully enrolled is what we all need to focus on,” she said. “People are working on the state and the city level night and day.”

BPHC received the largest grant to fund its navigator grant program, but was one of 10 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. The other Boston centers that received money include Boston Health Care for the Homeless, the Codman Square Health Center, Dimock Community Health Center and Dorchester House.

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.