Effort begins in Ariz. to find uninsured residents

PHOENIX (AP) — A years’ long effort to enroll Arizona residents into health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act started over the weekend as volunteers canvassed neighborhoods throughout Phoenix and Tempe.

The volunteers are seeking out some of Arizona’s 1 million uninsured residents.

Using mapping technology and political-campaign-style organization, the national nonprofit group Enroll America is working with local health care and social-service agencies to locate the uninsured, answer questions about the federal health care overhaul and get them signed up.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to increase the number of people who have coverage,” Allen Gjersvig of the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers told The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/17detM9 ).

Enrollment in Arizona’s expanded Medicaid program and the online insurance marketplace begins in October.

Public polling indicates that most people know little about the Affordable Care Act and that many view it negatively.

Signed into law in 2010, the act requires everyone to have health insurance and provides Internet marketplaces and subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans pay for it.

Key challenges for Enroll America and the hundreds of local groups trying to educate Arizona residents are to find the uninsured and then find the right message, with relatively few resources. Those without insurance coverage are a diverse group with widely different health care needs, from young adults to those nearing retirement to people with chronic health conditions.

Enroll America is targeting Arizona and nine other states that have large numbers of uninsured residents, no state-based health exchange and no state-supported outreach effort. The other states are Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

On Saturday, volunteers and Enroll America staff started making phone calls and walking neighborhoods in the Phoenix area. Canvassing in Tucson is planned next week.

Roughly 150,000 Arizonans have lost health insurance in the past two years, and an untold number have been unable to sign up since Gov. Jan Brewer and lawmakers froze a Medicaid program for low-income childless adults.

During the legislative session, Brewer and a bipartisan group of lawmakers passed a measure that will reopen the program and expand it to insure an estimated 350,000 more Arizonans.

Enroll America enlisted more than 3,000 volunteers for the weekend’s canvass. Also taking part were some of the 300-plus Arizona organizations that make up the Cover Arizona coalition.

Arizona health care and nonprofit groups have received limited federal grants for the outreach effort, including $2.1 million to hire health care “navigators” and $2.3 million for community health centers to provide outreach and education statewide.

Other states have budgeted tens of millions of dollars to publicize and implement the law.

Organizers of the Arizona effort say that, even with less-than-ideal funding, they welcome the challenge.

“When have we had this opportunity?” said Kim VanPelt of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, which leads the coalition. “There’s a huge lack of resources. … We are all rolling up our sleeves to do this.”

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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