The following is a guest blog post from Ronald Yee, MD, Chief Medical Officer of NACHC.
Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act began this week (November 1 – December 15). For Community Health Centers, which now serve 28 million people nationwide, it is our job to continue to educate people about their health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage. Health centers have a proud tradition of connecting people to coverage and services. They also have longstanding partnerships with community stakeholders, such as churches, schools, local businesses and social services to conduct outreach and ensure that consumers understand their coverage options and make informed choices. Health centers do this work for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that good health depends on one having both insurance coverage and access to affordable care. In 2017, health centers provided over 5 million assists to patients seeking to enroll into health insurance coverage.
We know people are more likely to have a timely and usual source of preventive care and less likely to skip care because of worries about cost when they have continuous health insurance coverage. Studies confirm this trend, but it also makes a difference in the exam room. When my patients had an insurance card in hand, whether acquired through an employer, private insurance or Medicaid, they were more likely to stay healthy, stay productive in their jobs and manage their overall health. It made my job easier as a health center physician, but more importantly, it brings into focus how insurance coverage is a key social determinant of health. Just as we ask our patients about diet and exercise, we have a responsibility to make sure patients are fully aware of health insurance options to better protect their overall health. Many patients are even unaware that there may be services for which they are eligible because no one told them. Health care is indeed complicated when there are options no one knows about.
Insurance coverage vastly changes the landscape of choices for consumers, yet the insurance market and Medicaid eligibility criteria can be confusing. Plans and coverage options can vary from state to state, and there are now short term insurance plans with exclusions that are important to understand before one signs up. Funds for navigators and other consumer assistance have also been cut, making the work of enrollment assistance more important than ever.
Our work is far from finished. Between now and when open enrollment ends on December 15, health centers will be reaching out to patients and their families to conduct a checkup of their insurance status and prescribe a plan that works for them.