A glitchy web site and no Medicaid expansion may not be the most ideal situation when trying to enroll more than 2,400 people into the Health Insurance Marketplace but it’s not keeping the Greater Prince William Community Health Center (GPWCHC) in Northern Virginia from doing all it can to reach out to the community with information about their new health insurance options. Working together, Frank Prinicpi, GPWCHC Executive Director and Kendra Kielbasa, Director of Marketing and Community Outreach created a strategic plan to reach their community that included press releases, social media outreach, text messaging, working with two dozen community non-profits, and holding Health Insurance Marketplace parties.
Prinicpi recently told the Huffington Post that the “health center is holding information sessions and running ads on local TV and radio. Automated telephones calls and text messages are going out to about 8,000 [uninsured] patients.”
All of the planning seems to be paying off. GPWCHC has been featured in the local papers and TV networks, and national outlets like the Huffington Post. But even more telling is the amount of people who showed up on opening day and the increase in phone calls. According to a press release, “nearly one hundred people showed up at [GPWCHC] on October 1 to find out about enrollment… Interest in the marketplace was greater than expected. Both individuals and a large number of multigenerational families visited the center to inquire about education and enrollment services. Phone lines stayed busy as counselors fielded a 15% increase in telephone call inquiries.”
One of the 100 people who turned out on opening day was Deborah Thornhill, a GPWCHC patient. Thornhill’s story was featured in InsideNOVA.com. According to the online publication, the 53 year-old grandmother of two works part-time and hasn’t been able to afford health insurance in years. Even the sliding-scale fee at the health center can be a challenge at times and Thronhill says, “when they call me and say I have an appointment, sometimes I say I can’t because I don’t have the money right now,” she said. “But then when I get it, I call back.” And although technical difficulties with the web site prevented her from enrolling, she understood and was happy to complete the paper application with the help of her Certified Application Counselor. She even noted that she expected the glitches because of the high expectations.
GPWCHC is the only health center in Prince William County that has Certified Application Counselors. The county is estimated to have 72, 000 total uninsured residents and 17,000 of those are eligible for the marketplace. Four GPWCHC counselors—they are still looking to hire one more—are providing assistance daily with completing applications, eligibility rules, and possible exemptions in both English and Spanish through March 31, 2014.
To boost enrollment efforts the health center is also hosting three Health Insurance Marketplace parties to provide the public with information on how to enroll. At these sessions those who want to begin the enrollment process can do so or they can also schedule an appointment for a future date. To make it easier for families to attend the event the health center is also offering babysitters and games onsite for children so that parents can focus on getting the information they need. Their first marketplace party resulted in 27 appointments scheduled with Certified Application Counselors.
Executive Director Prinicipi also says their efforts have resulted in invites to share the enrollment information at other events and meetings in the community, and that having adequate staff with laptops and paper applications is key.
“We need to turn the corner and stop talking about it and start enrollment,” he said. “Unless we get them enrolled we won’t see improvement.”
Having assisted 2,500 since October 1st and enrolled 350 individuals with paper applications, Prinicpi thinks they are on track to exceed their goal. In fact, the health center is looking ahead and hiring 14 new staff members to accommodate the growing demand for their services in 2013-2014.