The Sea Mar Community Health Centers and the Community Health Centers of Snohomish County have both seen an increase in patients and questions due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in October.
According to Anthony Amos, clinic manager for the Sea Mar Community Health Center of Marysville, the Marysville clinic received 119 new applications and enrolled 177 people, while their Everett clinic received 59 new applications and enrolled 139 people, and their Monroe clinic received 43 new applications and enrolled 73 people.
Mallory Lisk, community relations manager for the Community Health Centers of Snohomish County, offered more regional statistics, since many of their insurance enrollment specialists work at more than one branch. In October, CHC assisted 474 people with inquiries on the ACA, and enrolled 147 — 121 in Medicaid/Apple Health, and 26 in the Qualified Health Plan exchange — of which 62 were new patients to the CHC. That breaks down to 16 in Arlington, 95 in north Everett, 207 in south Everett, 140 in Lynnwood and 16 in Edmonds.
“One of the biggest concerns was from people who were watching the news and got the idea that they were obligated to sign up, and that they would be penalized if they didn’t,” said Jose Rodriguez, an insurance enrollment specialist with CHC. “We also have a number of people who don’t have access to computers, so we’re helping them apply.”
“We’re also dealing with a bit of a language barrier, since many of our patients are Latino,” Amos said of Sea Mar’s clientele, echoing Rodriguez and Lisk’s assessment of an obstacle facing many CHC patients. “They often assume they’re not eligible if they’re not citizens, but the ACA has actually expanded Medicaid.”
“And if you’re 65 or older, you already qualify for Medicaid, so you don’t have to purchase another health plan,” Rodriguez said. “Even those who do purchase new plans can get tax credits.”
“Even if you’re undocumented, we can still help you enroll,” Lisk said.
While Rodriguez and Amos have noticed significant improvements in the www.healthcare.gov website since the start of October, they acknowledged that certain issues seem to be lingering, especially for patients with more complicated immigration statuses.
“Those patients’ applications have to be verified anyway, since you have problems that arise when their Social Security Numbers don’t match their green cards or passports,” Rodriguez said. “I would like to see the process more streamlined.”
“Even patients who have just moved within the past nine months have experienced little hitches in needing to verify their statuses through paperwork,” Amos said.
While Sea Mar in Marysville has a laptop in its waiting room, to facilitate both online ACA applications and job searches for its clients, Amos described the laptop as “under-utilized” at present.
“Our customer service representatives are only able to process about five applications a day each,” Amos said. “We’re trying to up that number to seven a day.”
Amos’ biggest complaint was not so much the website as the help and service phone number for ACA, as he reported that some of his own staff members have experienced wait times of just shy of an hour on the line.
“Once we’re finally able to get the applications submitted, it’s about a three-day turnaround process,” Amos said. “They’re doing so well by mail, but so many people who call aren’t even able to get through.”
Amos and Rodriguez agreed that they’re happy to answer questions about the ACA, since they expect that many people will want to know more details before they sign up.
“You can find out right away who qualifies and who doesn’t,” said Veronica Villalobos, who occupies one of the front desks at Sea Mar in Marysville to guide people through the ACA. “I have one patient who already owes $72,000 due to cancer treatments, at which point he’s relying on charity or a cure.”
Across the state, Washington Healthplanfinder reported that more than 55,000 residents have enrolled in health coverage since Oct. 1. Since its launch, more than 100,000 people in Washington state have either fully enrolled in new health coverage options, or completed applications that are awaiting payments due in December.
“This was a historical opening month for Washington Healthplanfinder,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. “We are proud of our success to date, but continue to be laser-focused on fine-tuning our site to ensure all of our customers are having a positive enrollment experience.”
For more information, log onto www.wahealthplanfinder.org.