January 2020

January 23, 2020

The Massachusetts Health Connector Open Enrollment period officially closes on January 23, 2020. However, this does not mean enrollment is “closed” for everyone. The Open Enrollment period is the annual time for Health Connector members to change their plan for any reason, and for new applicants to shop for health insurance without a “qualifying life event.”

So what happens on Health Care For All’s HelpLine and with all the enrollment assisters across the state on January 24th? The answer is (drum roll, please): a lot. Consumer assistance programs that help people enroll into health insurance are not limited to aiding people with their applications during the Open Enrollment period. They do so much more. Enrollment assisters continue to be busy post-Open Enrollment because many people can apply for health insurance after that day, or because they may experience life changes that require updating their coverage. People who qualify for MassHealth, the Health Safety Net, Children’s Medical Security Plan and people who would be newly determined eligible for ConnectorCare, can apply at any time throughout the year. Other people may be eligible for what is known as a Special Enrollment Period. This allows them to go through the Health Connector to shop for private insurance if they experience qualifying life events such as moving, employment or income changes, marriage, divorce, birth, change in household dependents, and loss of health insurance. Also, if an individual is member of a federally recognized tribe or Alaska Native shareholder, they are able to apply for health insurance at any time.

On December 9, 2019, The Boston Globe published a piece that I wrote about what it is like to work on the HelpLine and the importance of consumer assistance. This piece paints a picture of the broad range of issues handled on the HelpLine throughout the year.

The HelpLine troubleshoots health insurance issues that can happen at any point in the year in English, Spanish and Portuguese. HelpLine counselors regularly make conference calls with clients and MassHealth or the Health Connector to diagnose problems and resolve coverage issues. Those calls do not stop once enrollment is completed. Callers want to know how to use their coverage, how to understand the out of pockets costs associated with their plan, and if they can get any other assistance with their health care expenses. In addition, people already on coverage need help updating their applications through the Health Connector and MassHealth throughout the year when they experience a change.

Successful consumer assistance is provided by community organizations understanding how to reach the communities they work with, and providing culturally competent aid in the languages most spoken in the area(s) they serve. Consumer assistance for health insurance is needed year round and this important work should get the financial support that it requires and deserves. Health Care For All is advocating for additional funding for programs like the HCFA HelpLine to continue the crucial work being done day in and day out. Consumer assistance is pivotal in keeping Massachusetts as the #1 in coverage rates, and making sure consumers have access to affordable health care when they need it. 

- Hannah Frigand, Director, Education and Enrollment Services at Health Care For All

January 23, 2020

Last week, the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) campaign released the report, Navigating Public Charge: Best Practices in Community Based Organizations to Mitigate the Harm for the Immigrant Community, a compilation of the best practices for community based organizations (CBOs) to reduce the risk posed by the current environment to immigrant communities. The results were gathered in collaboration with immigrant-serving organizations from across the country, who contributed their experiences and expertise to provide insight for the report. Health Care For All was one of the twenty-seven advocacy and immigrant-serving agencies who were acknowledged in the document.

The report serves as a roadmap for CBOs, narrowing down the most effective approaches to support immigrant communities. Some of these practices include: building coalitions to oppose changes to the “public charge” rule and develop education and outreach strategies, offering trainings that are culturally sensitive, and incorporating feedback and leadership to and from the community. The report also emphasizes the importance of coordination with legal support and points out that education funds can be utilized to inform immigrant communities and their leaders about public charge.

HCFA shared some of the key strategies implemented in Massachusetts to address the fear and uncertainty impacting immigrant communities. One of the immigration policies coming from the federal administration that is causing great concern is the new “public charge” rule. This is an attempt to broaden the factors taken into account to determine if an immigrant applying for a green card is a public charge. Being deemed a public charge may prevent them from adjusting their immigration status. That’s why many organizations such as HCFA have focused their efforts on educating the community on the rule and what it means for them.

Maria R. González Albuixech, Director of Communications and Immigrant Health at HCFA, is quoted in the report discussing several tactics implemented in the Commonwealth. One of the strategies highlighted is the combination of Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment efforts with education about public charge, immigration, and use of benefits in general: “We brought 4-5 pro bono immigration lawyers and enrollment assisters to the same event. We could advise on public charge at the same time.” At such events, HCFA and partners do not only help people apply for health insurance, but also provide answers to their immigration questions and dispel concerns regarding the use of benefits they are entitled to. “Health Care For All Massachusetts monitored ACA health insurance enrollment numbers after a significant outreach campaign targeting the immigrant community and including public charge education. Their intention to reduce the impact of public charge fears on ACA enrollment is measured by the overall enrollment rates in the immigrant community.”

One of the biggest challenges to address the “chilling effect” that’s preventing immigrant communities from living productive and healthy lives under current circumstances is the lack of financial support for this specific line of work. A strategy suggested in the report is reframing ongoing work to bridge that gap: “Groups involved in ACA enrollment such as Health Care For All Massachusetts were able to secure funding from their state’s health insurance exchange to share public charge information as part of enrollment education.”

Through a collection and evaluation of the strategies implemented by organizations throughout the country to support immigrant communities, this report identifies the best path forward for CBOs so that they can provide effective assistance to immigrants who need to navigate public charge to develop long-term success.

If you would like to read more, you may access the links for the full report and executive summary.

- Jill Makin, Communications and Policy co-op at Health Care For All