Several health organizations in Maryland are preparing to provide one-on-one, in-person assistance to help uninsured and under-insured residents enroll in new health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Beginning Oct. 1, individuals who do not have access to health insurance through their employer will be able to shop for coverage through the Maryland Health Connection, an online marketplace that matches applicants with options that fit their budget and the needs of their families.
Maryland is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia that has established local marketplaces with competitive rates. The rest of the country will enroll in new insurance plans through the federal government’s health insurance marketplace.
The marketplace was designed to meet the demands of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which requires all Americans—except for those with religious or income exemptions—to have health insurance or face a penalty.
To ensure that consumers are able to make well-informed decisions on insurance purchases, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange awarded $24 million in grants to six organizations—called connector entities—that will specialize in enrolling residents in health insurance plans.
The six organizations, which each represent a region of the state, will use the grant funds to hire more than 300 new staff members to assist with enrollment. HealthCare Access Maryland will be assisting Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City.
“It’s hard to tell people ‘I’m sorry, but we don’t have anything you qualify for,’” said Kathleen Westcoat, the CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland. “Now there will be an option for everybody.”
Harford County will be assisted by Seedco, which received $2 million to assist Eastern Shore and northern Maryland residents navigate the new health care law. It is working in concert with the Harford County Health Department and Harford Community Action Agency.
Through Seedco and its affiliates, certified professionals will counsel applicants and enroll them in qualified health plans. Non-certified staff will provide information and assistance for residents enrolling in expanded Medicaid. Both certified and non-certified staff will be equipped with laptops and sent out to community events, schools, churches, libraries and other public spots.
Westcoat said that mobility will be critical to the success of the enrollment effort.
“We don’t envision having staff sitting in offices here. They will be out and about in the community, so they need to have technology,” Westcoat said.
Until Oct. 1, connector entities will focus on educating partners and community organizations about the Affordable Care Act and the Maryland Health Connection.