SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 3, 2013

Health law's side effect

Local clinics reach out to help low-income residents enroll

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Thousands of North Shore residents have less than three months to sign up for subsidized health insurance under a new federal law or risk losing coverage.

North Shore Community Health Inc., which serves largely low-income residents at health centers in Salem, Peabody and Gloucester, is launching an outreach campaign to get the word to 8,000 of its patients who have to switch from their current Medicaid coverage to a new federal insurance program under the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”

Their deadline to switch is Dec. 15. Residents can sign up later but risk losing coverage beginning Jan. 1.

“We don’t want them to fall off the rolls,” said Margaret Brennan, chief executive officer of North Shore Community Health. “But if they don’t act, they’ll lose their coverage.”

Although Monday was the first day to sign up for the new federal health program, enrollments are starting slowly because many residents aren’t aware that their current health insurance will soon end. The agency estimated that about 8,000 of its 15,000 patients are enrolled in Medicaid programs that end in 10 weeks.

As a result, North Shore Community Health has begun an information blitz, reaching out to newspapers, radio stations, cable TV networks and area organizations that serve low-income residents.

“I’m going door-to-door in The Point,” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, the newly hired director of outreach and enrollment for North Shore Community Health. The Point is a low-income, largely Latino neighborhood in Salem.

This outreach campaign faces several hurdles. About a third of the agency’s patients speak Spanish, Portuguese or another language, and many don’t have computers, which are needed to sign up for this Web-based, online insurance program.

There are also a number of insurance options, so families and individuals need information before they can make decisions.

To make the process go more smoothly, each of the health centers has a state-certified application counselor who can meet with patients and guide them through the sign-up process on a computer. Other staff members have been trained in the new law. But with so many people to sign up in such a relatively short period, time is of the essence.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said Ubiera-Minaya.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.

HOW TO SIGN UP FOR COVERAGE

Counselors can help patients sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at each of the North Shore Community Health's regional centers.