As often as we can we are featuring various ways health centers are working hard to connect people with coverage. This time, we stumbled across a great story and a very hardworking man in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Jeff Tourdot is burning the candle on both ends, not to mention the mileage on his car, to make sure Linn County gets as many eligible individuals as possible enrolled into the Health Insurance Marketplace and get coverage. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) Outreach and Education Specialist with Linn Community Care looks beyond the headlines regarding HealthCare.gov malfunctions and political debate about the ACA, and sums up his mission this way: “Currently in Linn County there are approximately 20,000 people waking up this morning without health insurance, subconsciously worried about getting sick, being in an accident, or being diagnosed with a health condition they know will compromise their financial stability…We do anticipate being able to considerably reduce the number of uninsured individuals in our community through our enrollment, outreach and educational efforts.”
Tourdot does not need a second job. He is already the Assistant Coordinator for Service Coordination and Client Counseling with Linn County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. Accepting the outreach and enrollment job this past August– and working 85-90 hours a week — was a personal decision because he understands what the uninsured and underinsured go through when they are sick and run out of options. It happened to his mother.
“My mother lost everything, including her house, due to her medical condition,” said Jeff when we caught up with him by telephone as he drove to his next meeting. “In the last six months of her life she ended up qualifying for Medicaid, shortly there after she died of kidney failure. It makes you see things from new perspective once you have experienced watching the impacts affect people you care about.”
Now Jeff is working feverishly to make sure no one has to go through what his mother experienced. To spread the word about the insurance options under the ACA, he is working with community partners, local hospitals, and social service organizations to organize outreach and enrollment events around the county. Jeff emphasizes it is no one single person or organization but instead a community of organizations showing they care.
“We are trying to do things a little different here in Linn County by choosing to deliberately not operate on islands and instead work together. We have learned through this process we have a greater opportunity to make difference in our community walking hand in hand in the same direction for the common good of our community members. We have created a model with 17 direct partnering organizations that continues to grow, 30 indirect organizations making referrals for individuals in need, as well as providing eleven scheduling hubs for individuals and families to access six different enrollment assistance locations countywide. This model provides over 1,800 Certified Application Counselor appointment slots for a population that totals 215,000. Recognizing 40 percent of the more than 20,000 uninsured will need one on one assistance we continue to explore opportunities to increase appointment capacity but feel pretty good about where we stand today.”
Tourdot added that another decision that seems to have paid off was the starting point for enrollment getting pushed back to November 1, 2013 instead of October 1, 2013. He explained, “We did not want to add to the frustration experienced coming out of the gate. We wanted to be ready with a plan that provided meaningful outcomes for our community members. Despite the distractions, we continue to keep our eyes on the needs of our community, ensuring they have an opportunity to get educated so they can make informed decisions about their insurance options.”
Going forward, the biggest challenge is convincing the estimated nine to 12 percent of Linn County residents without health insurance to get started. This was no easy task, Jeff says. Many people are apprehensive, anxious, and in many cases worried about how the ACA changes will impact them directly. Tourdot realizes there is a great deal of misinformation that can only be overcome by sitting down with people one by one and helping them through the process. “Our hope is that people see we truly care. The reality is we have nothing to gain from this initiative other than the satisfaction in knowing we helped them or their family gain access to affordable health insurance.”
In effort to help provide understanding, Jeff is reaching out to local media, publishing articles like this one in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and instructing people on where to get help and where to apply for coverage.
Despite the work involved, the reward for Jeff is seeing the comfort and relief on peoples’ faces once they realize they have coverage in hand. Jeff described one recent experience with a single mom who came in to meet with him.
“She was a single mom of four kids who had not ever been able to afford health insurance. She expressed concern about how she was going to find a plan that would work for her budget. She works forty hours a week making just over $8.00 an hour. As I outlined for her the options available, specifically the Iowa Wellness Plan, she at first looked at me with doubt. As I proceeded to pull out the eleven Essential Health Benefits for review and then shared her overall cost in the first year for premiums, doctor and prescription co-pays, I began to see a quiver and her eyes well up. She looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe this, you don’t know what this means to me I have never had health insurance.’ We filled out the application and when the process was completed she sat in disbelief again, pondering what had just happened. She then said, ‘I thought I was going to come in here and hear I was going to have to pay over $200 for a catastrophic plan that I could not afford.’ She paused for a moment and then said, ‘Do you know what this is going to do for me?’ Her eyes welled up again as she walked to the door, saying, ‘Thank you, you don’t know what this means to me.’”