thousand invested in 2020
grants awarded in 2020
Grantee Story – Kansas Assistance Network
The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County (CHC) has been an innovator in the area of enrollment assistance for several years. The nonprofit organization serves as a catalyst for community health improvement efforts and a convener for health, mental health, government, neighborhood and nonprofit groups committed to working together to improve health outcomes in the county.
Soon after the launch of healthcare.gov, CHC stepped up to connect Wyandotte County, KS, residents to enrollment information and assistance. The success of those efforts spurred creation of the Kansas Assisters Network (KAN), a multi-county effort to substantially increase outreach and strengthen navigators and assisters through ongoing training, resources and use of appointment scheduling and tracking tools. KAN’s outreach to leaders and members of Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities, refugees and neighborhood groups contributed to reductions in uninsurance rates in Wyandotte County, which saw uninsurance decrease from 26% in 2013 to an estimated 16% in 2018.
Molly Gotobed, KAN creator and program director, said the assister network placed the emphasis on penetrating underserved communities, including non-English speaking populations, low-wage workers and individuals with limited experience with health insurance.
KAN translated outreach and educational materials in Spanish, Nepali, Burmese and other languages and dialects. Assisters employed interpretation services, and used infographics, videos and other tools to walk through the basics of health coverage – helping clients navigate complex eligibility situations and serving as advocates, as needed.
“We routinely followed up with clients after they obtained coverage to walk them through their benefits, premiums, and how to protect themselves from unexpected expenses,” said Gotobed. “These conversations brought up other health and household issues, such as Medicare, disability, food benefits and other concerns. It was clear our expertise extended beyond the standard enrollment processes and periods; we needed a way to extend our efforts.”
Looking to improve sustainability for enrollment efforts, in 2019 CHC staff explored a nonprofit insurance broker model in South Carolina that operates as a one-stop shop for free assistance with public and private health insurance options. The model requires assisters to become licensed insurance agents; the commissions earned through health plan sales provide revenues to fund the project’s operations. The agents provide all services currently offered by assisters, such as health care marketplace enrollment, Medicaid application and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other public benefits.
Gotobed said CHC’s assisters are exempt employees paid a set salary, unlike traditional brokers whose wages are dependent on commissions. “This unique broker model opened up an opportunity to provide a full menu of enrollment options while also continuing to provide unbiased guidance and maintain our practice of follow-up support as assisters.”
A $55,000 REACH grant awarded in 2019 supported program planning, broker training and licensure, and other program startup needs. Beginning in 2019 and extending into 2020, Gotobed and other KAN staff met with existing partners and new partners to develop referral relationships, created educational materials, initiated marketing efforts aimed at Medicare-eligible audiences, and continued to provide its other health insurance marketplace and public benefit enrollment. In 2020, the Kansas Assisters Network transitioned to become the Kansas Assistance Network to reinforce the expanded services encompassing Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans.
REACH awarded a $50,000 grant in 2020 to support implementation of the nonprofit broker model, which allows the Kansas Assistance Network brokers to broaden their insurance coverage outreach and support to a larger population of low-income Johnson and Wyandotte County residents.
Gotobed said the nonprofit broker model gives her team more tools to help clients with health coverage and other needs. As brokers, staff can follow up with clients on payment of premiums and use of benefits. “We aren’t dependent on special enrollment periods to help clients with coverage plans, and we can monitor activity so that clients don’t miss payments and lose their coverage.”
Gotobed’s broker colleagues echo her appreciation at how the broker model has expanded the organization’s outreach to low-income and underserved clients. Ricardo Ortiz, a Community Health Specialist and one of the CHC brokers, said the extensive training on plans, eligibility requirements, benefits packages and ethical standards of practice – and access to ongoing technical assistance through the nonprofit broker model administrator – have provided him a larger platform for helping high-need clients.
“This model has raised our services to a whole new level,” said Ortiz. “Through this program, we’re bringing so much more value to our community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic limited in-person encounters, said Gotobed. However, the team identified new avenues in 2020 for getting their services in front of people. COVID vaccination sites, food drives, drive-through resource fairs and events, and Zoom forums helped create visibility for the new KAN services.
“As more people get vaccinated and feel comfortable meeting in person or at partner sites, we expect to see an uptake in services. In the meantime, we’re testing new marketing techniques and making connections with community groups to make sure people know we’re here to provide a full spectrum of assistance.”
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