Strategizing on helping the uninsured with health care reform

As the country gears up to launch the Affordable Care Act, one of the most difficult tasks will be to sell it to uninsured people who may have never heard of the word “co-pay” or know what a primary care physician is.

That was the message of Alta Lash, a Connecticut community organizer who was one of several speakers from across the nation at a daylong roundtable discussion Monday on how to promote health equity through “Obamacare.”

The event attracted about 200 policymakers, social workers, physicians and researchers to the Mark Twain House in Hartford for a discussion of how to eliminate health disparities through the expanded coverage that will take effect in January. Of the uninsured in the United States, nearly six in 10 are people of color and one in four speaks another language, experts said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy welcomed guests and talked about the monumental task of setting up a health care marketplace to sell insurance to the estimated 242,000 uninsured in Connecticut. He said the legislature is just starting to hold serious talks about who is going to introduce customers to the health care options and teach them how to maneuver in the health care system.

U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st. also spoke briefly, pointing out that Congress has presented a budget that would eliminate funding support for state health care plans.

“It is going to be extraordinarily difficult for states to accomplish the goals that they’ve set out,” Larson said. “This is going to take a grass-roots effort.”

To market the new health care plans, it will be important to think creatively about how to reach these customers effectively by reaching out to the neighborhoods where they live, said Lash, the community organizer, who works primarily in the Hartford area.

“We need to develop specific strategies where population is located,” she said.

Lash said one of the most effectively marketing campaigns she has seen is the one for H & R Block. The company targets people who likely don’t have their own accountants or a Turbo Tax computer program. She said the company reaches out to where their customers live by advertising on buses and running commercials on popular television shows and Spanish radio stations, she said.

“You’ve got to just get the message out that this will help the consumer. It goes without saying that you have to have something worthwhile. The product had better be really good,” she said.

Lash also suggested finding people who not only look like they are from the community and understand the culture but are also experts in health insurance to help guide customers through the enrollment process.

Also during the roundtable, sponsored by the Connecticut Health Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, experts discussed the importance of making sure that health insurance doesn’t become so expensive for states that they need to cut education funding to pay for it.

“We really need to make sure that we are spending more but not going backwards,” said keynote speaker Jennifer DeVoe, of Oregon Health & Science University.

Other discussions focused on how addressing health disparities is not just a social justice matter, but will make employees happier, healthier and more productive.

Still others focused on the idea of creating a “patient centered health home” in which the health care provider takes responsibility for all their patients’ health care needs, such as following up on tests and arranging visits with specialists.