Making the Connection
Unity Health Care Outreach and Enrollment Specialists 'Assisters' Connect Our Community with Health Care and Hope!
8/13/2014, 2 p.m.
On the anniversary of Emancipation Day in 1985, Unity Health Care (then named Health Care for the Homeless Project) saw their first patients. One of whom was Mr. McCleod, a relative of Mary McCleod Bethune, the founder of the National Organization of Negro Women and an advisor to four presidents on African American issues. This powerful symbolism is never felt more deeply than now. Unity Health Care’s staff of Outreach Enrollment Specialists “Assisters” advise, guide and ultimately enroll patients into health insurance - putting into practice the law legislated by our country’s first African American President.
Recently, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation published a Survey of Health Insurance Marketplace Assister Programs documenting that “. . . programs sponsored by federal health centers funded by grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) together account for . . . more than 60% of people who received help.” Further, the report mentioned, “Many consumers in search of health insurance sought a more human touch to find their way through the enrollment process.” This community need was also recognized by the team at Unity Health Care leading to the development of their Assisters Program.
On the front lines in the effort in D.C. is Jorhan Santana an Assister at Unity Health Care’s Upper Cardozo Health Center since November 2012. With open enrollment ending, Jorhan sees fewer clients but now has the chance to personally address each consumer's questions and concerns. In fact, according to the Kaiser Survey, ninety percent (90%) of Assister Programs have already been re-contacted by consumers with post-enrollment questions. Jorhan says, “The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am providing access to care which makes health care a human right rather than a luxury only for those who can afford it.”
One of Jorhan’s clients, Jubinca Martinez, could not agree more! Jubinca was born in Silver Spring, Maryland but when life in the United States became too much of a challenge, her mother moved the family back to El Salvador. Jubinca moved back to the U.S. on her own ten years ago, when she was only 16 years old. She is now expecting her first baby and credits Jorhan for doing a “great job” getting her connected to health insurance during a frightening time in her pregnancy. Recently, Jubinca came to Unity Health Care’s Upper Cardozo Health Centers as a walk-in patient. At eight months into her pregnancy, her baby had stopped moving. Jubinca was immediately directed to a local emergency room where she underwent testing which showed that the baby’s lack of movement was the result of allergy medication she had taken. Jubinca was grateful to have insurance THEN, which calmed her fears and allowed her to make sure her baby was doing well; and she is grateful to have insurance NOW, for pre-natal appointments that keep her and her baby healthy!
The Kaiser Survey revealed further that Assister Programs (such as the one at Unity Health Care) will play a key role in insurance enrollment growth in 2015 and the public’s limited understanding of the Affordable Care Act may become a more pronounced issue of concern. To address this concern, both the quality and character of those in the role of Assisters will become of vital importance in the coming year. This sentiment is shared by Ramona Griffith, born and raised in Washington, DC, and an Assister at Unity Health Care since September 2013. “The program could use more of us,” says Ramona, “We need more people who can “walk in the shoes” of those we serve. I love knowing that I helped to keep someone healthy for another day.”
According to Vincent Keane, President and CEO of Unity Health Care, “The twin purpose of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is to lower health care costs, and to improve health outcomes. A critical step in achieving these two goals is to provide health insurance to as many people as possible, either through public programs such as Medicaid, or through private insurance under the Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX). The District of Columbia has been on the forefront by conducting aggressive outreach and enrollment efforts to all District residents. Unity Health Care is a proud partner with the District in an effort to maximize coverage for all uninsured residents. Through a grant from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Unity has been able to hire five (5) Assisters to conduct these outreach efforts, they have been phenomenally successful in their work, in the first six (6) months they have enabled over 1,407 patients to be enrolled in either Medicaid, or private insurance. We look forward to even greater success in the future.”