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HHS, AARP prepare Arizonans for new health care marketplace

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With the Oct. 1 deadline approaching for states and the federal government to start up their health care exchanges, the question remains whether Arizonans will know how to enroll with as few glitches as possible.

Since Gov. Jan Brewer decided to allow the feds to facilitate Arizona’s exchange, outreach responsibility is left primarily in the hands of the federal government, says Don Hughes, the governor’s health care policy adviser and executive director of the Arizona Health Insurance Exchange.

“Education, outreach, marketing about the exchange and coverage in the exchange is the responsibility of Health and Human Services of the federal government,” Hughes says.

Herb Shultz, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional director for Region IX, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Pacific territories, says his office is working with local organizations, communities and leaders such as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild to make sure the appropriate services are provided to consumers.  The goal is to help them learn about the law and get enrolled in the exchange.

HHS itself has two websites, Healthcare.gov and Cuidadodesalud.gov, which provide information about exchanges, open enrollment and the opportunity for customers to set up a personal profile, the first step to enrolling.

HHS also gave $2.3 million to 17 federally qualified health centers in Arizona.  That will allow them enroll up to 62,000 uninsured Arizonans and hire 45 additional workers to aid in the effort, Schultz says.

Navigating the exchange

HHS announced grants on Aug. 15 that will be used to fund “navigator” programs in some states, which are designed to assist people in using the exchanges.

“Navigators will be among the many resources available to help consumers understand their coverage options in the marketplace,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a press release. “A network of volunteers on the ground in every state — health care providers, business leaders, faith leaders, community groups, advocates, and local elected officials — can help spread the word and encourage their neighbors to get enrolled.”

Each state is required to have at least two organizations designated as navigators that are in charge of outreach, education and motivating people to get enrolled at the community level, Schultz says. Organizations that may qualify to be a part of the navigator program are community-based, social services, small businesses, providers and other non-profit organizations.

The nationwide program is funded by $67 million in grants. Arizona will receive a minimum of $1.6 million for its four navigator organizations. The Arizona navigators are:

Arizona Association of Community Health Centers: $1.34 million
Greater Phoenix Urban League, Inc.: $524,000
Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona: $190,000
Campesinos Sin Fronteras, Inc.: $71,000

Certified counselors

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has established “certified application counselors” to provide information and to help facilitate exchange enrollment in qualified health plans and insurance affordability programs.

Under the program, organizations, agents and brokers can get certified to help consumers enroll in the exchange. Certified application counselors will be required to complete five hours of the web-based training and agents and brokers are required to complete four hours.

Schultz adds that there is also a 24-hour consumer call center staffed by Spanish and English speakers that provides translations for more than 150 languages.

“HHS is working actively with community and business organizations and the local government to make sure the information is as broad-based as possible for consumers,” Schultz says.

AARP efforts

AARP is working to educate people nationwide on using the exchanges through “user-friendly” websites.

“We know the law is confusing so what we’re trying to do is put people in front of resources where they can get those questions answered,” said Nicole Duritz, vice president of education and outreach at AARP, during a media briefing.

The agency launched two websites Aug. 7 to further assist people in learning about the new law and what it means to them. One, HealthLawFacts.org, provides generalized information.

The other, HealthLawAnswers.org, prompts visitors to answer seven questions, taking about 30 seconds, before it leads a person to their personalized report on eligibility, help and services the law will provide, Duritz says. The report provides sections on how the new law will work, protections it will provide, how far coverage will extend, benefits and links to more information and to the marketplace of that individual’s state.

The website also has a translation feature to change the site between English to Spanish with the click of a button.

“We are tailoring our resources so they are very individualized so people can see what it means to them,” Duritz says.

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