Partnerships propel Affordable Care Act in Garrett County

Columbia-based nonprofit works with hospital, health department

Elaine Blaisdell

Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Providing information to the uninsured who are required to be insured under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, has fared better in Garrett County than it has nationally because of the way the county has been able to quickly provide information, said Donald Battista, president and CEO of Garrett County Memorial Hospital.

Healthy Howard Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Columbia, has formed local partnerships with the hospital, the county health department, Community Action Council and Mountain Laurel Medical Center to help get the word out about implementing the Affordable Care Act, according to Heather Glass, field operations manager of the agency.

“The local partners are critical to the success of the connector program. These partners know the local community, the unique qualities of the community; what may be the best approach for outreach and education; how to find the hard to reach population and understanding the challenges and unique opportunities,” said Glass.

Maryland Health Connection, a one-stop health insurance marketplace to enroll in health insurance, is working to fix glitches with the Maryland Health Exchange program by mid-November, according to Glass.

“As everyone knows, the Maryland Health Exchange is facing technical challenges and turnout was low in October throughout Maryland,” said Glass.

Resident James “Smokey” Stanton was glad to hear that Healthy Howard had formed local partnerships and stressed the importance of the commissioners working with the partners and reinforcing the importance of implementation.

“This is not health reform, it’s health insurance reform,” said Stanton. “With the way that the mass media is portraying this, combined with the glitches of the national system, that may be undermining the confidence in this particular medical social policy.”

If a person has insurance they are more likely to obtain preventive health care and early detection and without it they are likely to evolve into an unhappy health situation that cost a lot of money, affects the work force and quality of life, according to Stanton.

Battista estimates that there are 3,000 to 4,000 residents who would qualify to potentially purchase insurance. The Garrett County Community Action Committee has sent more than 1,000 letters to residents in its database who are listed as uninsured, according to Pam Nelson, vice president for community services with GCCAC.

At the hospital, 786 people have been identified as being uninsured, but of those, only three have attempted to make application for a health plan, according to Battista.

“It seems like to me a small number that have so far gone through the process to purchase insurance but it starts with information,” said Battista.

“I’m thrilled that we have probably made contact with 50 percent. I would just hope the numbers start to reflect those who are eligible to benefit from this whole effort,” said Commissioner James Raley.

Paper applications, especially for those who qualify for Medicaid, have been taken and can be taken by GCCAC, according to Nelson. GCCAC has one navigator on staff, who can help an individual select a private plan through the Maryland Health Exchange, and nine assisters on staff, who take the preliminary applications for insurance. GCMH has five assisters on staff and so does the health department. Mountain Laurel Medical Center has three assisters.

The “no wrong door approach” has been em-braced by the partners in the county, according to Glass. Staff members are trained and certified to help the uninsured obtain quality, affordable health care through the Maryland Health Connection.

“This approach recognizes that the great organizations in Garrett County are already working with the uninsured population. They know where they are and are already engaging them in various services,” said Glass.

Healthy Howard has held health fairs in the county to get information out about the Maryland Health Exchange program  because they have been more successful than the forums, which have been held in other counties to get the word out, according to Glass.

The county’s Department of Social Services has been gearing up for a year to provide assistance and information on Affordable Care Act and the Maryland Health Connection, according to Linda Ashby, with the department.

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