Local health care providers help community sign up for health insurance coverage

By Ling-Mei Wong


President Barack Obama announced April 17 that 8 million Americans signed up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.” This exceeds the White House target of 7 million individuals, with 28 percent of those enrolled 18 to 24 years old. Young healthy people will make health care premiums affordable for individuals who need more medical attention.

This goal was not possible without help from local health care providers. From completing applications to translating federal ACA material, these providers went above and beyond to help clients and patients get health care coverage.

“We helped 3,300 families complete health insurance applications,” said Frances Ma, social service manager at South Cove Community Health Center.

South Cove has four sites in Chinatown and Quincy, serving the Chinese-American community in Cantonese, Mandarin and Toisanese. It also has Vietnamese and Cambodian interpreters on site. Most of the ACA materials had to be translated into Chinese from English, which became flyers and video slideshows in Mandarin and Cantonese. Its staff needed to complete training to be certified application counselors, so patients could get signed up before the March 31 deadline.

“We did outreach at both August Moon Festivals in Boston and Quincy and also reached out to other organizations, such as the Greater Boston Golden Age Center and American Chinese Christian Educational and Social Services (ACCESS),” Ma said. “South Cove wants to help the Chinese community and these agencies performed workshops for their clients, so more people understand the importance of the changes.”

Tufts Medical Center has helped patients navigate federal health insurance requirements. “Our financial coordination team has reached out to our existing patient base to offer assistance in signing up for the best product offered to suit their medical needs,” said Shawnessy Malcolm, financial coordination supervisor at Tufts MC. “We also have provided them with directions and information on a more precise avenue to contact MassHealth or the Health Connector on their own, in order to get the information they may need without our assistance, if they choose.”

Tufts MC patients with additional questions can make an appointment with the financial coordination team, preferably a few weeks before their doctor’s appointments, Malcolm said. The Tufts Asian Access Program operates on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for non-English speaking, or limited English-speaking individuals in the Asian community. Interpretation help is also available on the weekends.

One challenge for health care providers was the online Health Connector’s downtime. “CeltiCare Health set up and ran enrollment events helping people through the application process individually, because the website was down for much of the time and many people found the application hard to complete,” said Joanne Casino, manager of marketing and communications at CeltiCare Health.

Another challenge was educating members about the necessity to sign up through the Health Connector and reapply so their coverage would continue. “Each person needs to take action to make sure they have health insurance coverage,” Casino said. “The fastest way is to go to MAhealthconnector.org and choose the type of insurance you need (individuals and families). People who need government assistance to help pay for health insurance can apply at any time.”

Legal residents are qualified to apply online under the ACA. While open registration ended March 31, new immigrants can still apply for coverage online.

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This post is also available in: Chinese

About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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