A new report by New Jersey Policy Perspective indicates more than 266,000 New Jersey residents have health insurance through Obamacare, but accessing it this year may be more difficult. The federal government has narrowed the enrollment window and cut funding for programs that help those hardest to reach. New Jersey Citizen Action‘s Maura Collinsgru and Greater Newark Health Care Coalition‘s Anthony Nunez join Lyndsay Christian.
Christian: Maura, so let’s talk about the Affordable Care Act. So, there are changes consumers need to know about that will go into effect this fall. The open enrollment period will be reduced from three months to six weeks. Federal officials say that’s sufficient time to enroll. But, how will that affect those who are enrolling for health insurance?
Collinsgru: Well, it’s going to put a burden on people to really be ready to act and act quickly. Open enrollment is from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 so they will only have those six short weeks to get enrolled and will need to have everything ready to do that.
Christian: And, New Jersey Citizen Action I understand is helping them through this process. You’re setting up a website, tell me more about that.
Collinsgru: Yes, so New Jersey Citizen Action convenes New Jersey for health care which is the state’s largest consumer health coalition. And, with that we have an ACA workgroup which is a collection of organizations from around the state who are working on outreach and enrollment to try to connect people to coverage. We’ve been working with partners on the ground for the last several years. We here in Newark, have an office on Halsey St. but there are agencies in every county across the state that can help consumers enroll so that will still be available. The website is covernj.org. It is currently being updated and will be ready by mid-Sept. for consumers to get the information they need.
Christian: Ok, great and we will be sure to share that with our viewers, of course. Will it be challenging to execute your outreach given the fact that the federal government is cutting some of its funding for outreach?
Collinsgru: Right. So, it will be doubling challenging. In the past, we had great partnerships with the regional staff of HHS. We don’t expect that we will have the same level of support from them. We are also losing some enrollment sisters especially in the northern counties. So, we are looking to coordinate more with our grassroots organizations, hospitals, federally qualified health centers to help consumers get the enrollment and assistance they need.
Christian: Anthony, so there’s constant back and forth on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Is there confusion among health care consumers about what’s happening this fall as it relates to enrollment? And, what have you heard from those who you are working with in your community?
Nunez: Well, yeah definitely there is some confusion and a lot of people are very ‘they hear what they hear and they believe what they want to believe.’ So, if it says they want to repeal it, they say why should I even try, if it’s going to be gone, I don’t want to or whatever. So, there is a lot of confusion there, a lot of conversation about is it worth it, is it not worth it, then what can I do? I don’t know what I can do. It’s just a big mess in Washington and kind of trickles down to the consumer themselves because they are unaware and that’s kind of where we are trying to come in and intervene with that.
Christian: I know there’s a team effort among agencies, coalitions and organizations to help consumers in a few weeks, or months rather, to really help them with this process. Anthony, what would be your piece of advice for those who would have all of these questions about open enrollment about what would be an appropriate first step and then going through that process?
Nunez: I would definitely tell them that it’s the law of the land. It’s there until it’s not basically, so I want to ensure that they know what services have been there are still here and not available for them. And, I think the first step is to mobilize the people in at least this area because I work for the health care coalition and we have a lot of partners in this community where it’s a priority. It’s a focus for us to make sure that the consumers know that they can receive the assistance and we are trying to mobilize that. So, the first step for us would be to gather together, talk about what’s going on, and try to get our heads straight together. We had a wonderful call actually a couple weeks ago and I am going to do a follow up call next week for sure and just to talk about what we’re going to do and the goals that we have is to do outreach. Because, as you know, it’s cut down in half, the time is cut down to 45 days for enrollment assistance so we want to do outreach for the entire first couple of months. In Sept. and Oct., we’ll focus on that and then focus on letting people know you can go here, you can go there wherever it is that they need to go. Create a distribution list of our sisters in the area, so people are informed of what’s available to them and they are aware of what they can do.
Christian: Anthony and Maura, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk to us and answer questions that I know many health care consumers may have. We appreciate it.
Nunez: You’re welcome.
Collinsgru: Thank you.