|By Jeremy Olson and Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Even before last week's launch of the MNsure online marketplace, state leaders had begun certifying thousands of Minnesotans who will get paid to help people sign up for health insurance. They come from groups as wide-ranging as the liberal Planned Parenthood family planning organization and the conservative Teen Challenge addiction program.
While the initiative might inspire a new round of insurance jokes -- have you heard the one about insurance salesmen being premium lovers? -- MNsure officials said these "navigators" will be essential to the law's ultimate success because many of the nation's uninsured won't pursue coverage unless someone finds them and explains their options.
"The whole point is to take the service to the people,'' said
While traditional salespeople such as insurance brokers will be in the mix, the state is enlisting nonprofits and businesses that already work with small segments of the state's uninsured population. The goal is to take advantage of their existing relationships and insure as many of the estimated 490,000 uninsured Minnesotans as possible by
An estimated 60 percent of
"We do have a lot of interest and a lot of people who want to help, which is great," said
"They are the exact people we need to reach in order to make the Affordable Care Act work in our state," said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman
"It's a combined effort to reach a community that we know well," said
Like the MNsure website, however, the navigator strategy has suffered glitches and delays. State officials planned to have navigators certified and ready to help by Day 1, but most of the participating agencies were still waiting late last week for the state to sign their contracts and provide the certification number their workers need before they can help anyone buy insurance. On Friday afternoon, the MNsure directory listed numerous brokers who were available to help, but only four navigator agencies.
Slow to get certified
"I couldn't figure out how to do it, and there was no number to call," she said. "We don't have anyone certified yet, but we're getting closer!"
Abderholden is eager to get her staffers connected with people because insurers for the first time are required to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment in every plan they sell on the exchanges.
Lawmakers also questioned the decision to award funding to a start-up called Health Access MN, which was formed just days before the grant application deadline by
MNsure officials backpedaled after the furor over the grants, saying they were still vetting the applications. Todd-Malmlov said last week that the awards would be finalized "very soon."
O'Connell said she didn't work on any navigator activities while employed by the state, and that there were no conflicts of interest in her application. She said she was successful because she formed a partnership of charitable groups and advocates, such as the
Navigators paid per person
"Organizations that have the trusted relationships [with uninsured people] didn't have the health care expertise and didn't really want to" be navigators on their own, she said.
Navigators are paid
O'Connell's Health Access group is scheduling events at public libraries, because they are familiar and approachable locations for people without insurance. Navigators at these events will have laptops or handheld devices to enroll people on the spot.
Portico will be sending navigators to food shelves -- where low-income families will be applying for food benefits anyway and will be able to sign up for health coverage in one stop.
The outreach is necessary because many uninsured people might finally believe they are eligible for coverage, but don't know what to do, said Portico's Lozano. "There's this huge population of people, especially lower-income people, saying, 'OK, maybe I am eligible. But where do I start? What do I do?'?"
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