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Continued: Deadline looms to sign up for health coverage without penalty

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 10, 2014 - 11:52 AM

Insurance companies and community groups are trying new ways to reach the uninsured. They’re using social media to find young people, holding meetings in church basements, sponsoring running events, or showing up at food shelves.

Medica recently rolled out a new tongue-in-cheek campaign it calls “No Regrets,” that features unicorn tattoos and drive-through weddings to convey a sense of security from having health insurance.

HealthPartners created a special help desk to help people figure out whether they’re eligible for tax credits, going so far as to identify the relevant line on tax returns, said Andrea Walsh, the insurer’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

Call center operators have even patched new members into three-way calls with insurance exchange staff in Iowa and Nebraska to help them get tax credits.

“It requires a lot of hand-holding,” she said. “Unfortunately health care is complicated, and anything with taxes is complicated. So we’re trying to unpack that and make it simpler.”

While mass media campaigns and balloon-filled health fairs get the word out to many people at once, the real work happens in lengthy, one-on-one meetings that can take days to resolve — all of which adds to the deadline crunch.

“It’s a delicate, high-touch process that involves sensitive information,” said Julie Ann Eastling, of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, which has given $1 million to community groups to help get insurance for difficult-to-reach populations in urban, rural and immigrant communities.

“It sometimes requires documentation and tracking down paperwork,” she said. “It can take a lot more than a one-hour session.”

Mobile messages

St. Paul-based Portico Healthnet used a grant from the Blue Cross Foundation to roll out a mobile phone text system in January that nudges people to get health insurance applications completed.

A message might ask, “Have you picked a plan yet?” Or it could offer a reminder about an upcoming appointment.

Rebecca Lozano, who manages the organization’s outreach programs, said texting allows Portico Healthnet workers to communicate in Spanish to address its large Latino population, and to avoid phone tag or wasting time tracking down people who have moved.

On any given day, the messages go out to 1,200 people, she said. “We get cases that other organizations don’t know what to do with,” she said. “They require a lot of follow up.”

Many problems are due to inherent problems in the way the MNsure site was built, she said.

For example, because the online form is only in English, translators are needed to help new immigrants. And there’s no online pathway to help an undocumented parent buy coverage for children who are legal residents, as the immigration hub doesn’t sync up with the federal hub, making verification time-consuming and confusing, Lozano said.

Many groups pushing for enrollment feel as if they have their backs against the wall.

At Pillsbury United Communities, even when 10 navigators show up at an event, there’s always a line, said spokesman Alan Berks. “The need and the desire is really great,” he said.

Managers at Portico Healthnet are developing an overtime policy for the first time in the organization’s history because the workload has become so demanding.

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  • Halimo Khalif, 40, gave a thumbs up as she got assistance from navigator Mary Pargo while signing up for MNsure before month’s end.

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