Opinion: Assistance network, call center vital to exchange

By Anne Warhover

Connect for Health Colorado is an investment that is paying off for the state. Through its outreach efforts, Colorado has enrolled more than 300,000 Coloradans in both public and private health insurance, far exceeding the goal set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and ranking Colorado fourth in the nation among state-based exchanges.

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As the Connect for Health Colorado board reviews its upcoming budget it should prioritize critical services for enrollment, including its call center and an in-person assistance site network funded in part by $4.5 million in grants from the Colorado Health Foundation. We must maintain the programs that have driven our success – programs that protect both the health of Colorado’s investment and that of Colorado families.

Before Connect for Health Colorado opened for enrollment, nearly one in five uninsured Coloradans did not know how to get health insurance and 24.9 percent believed they did not need health insurance, according to the 2013 Colorado Health Access Survey. Research and achievements from the first open enrollment period prove that in-person assistance is indispensable for increasing enrollments, especially for hard-to-reach populations who are new to health insurance and need support understanding their options.

Amid all of the changes and adjustments states saw while health care reform was implemented, Colorado’s marketplace succeeded by partnering with local and trusted community organizations across the state through the assistance site network. These sites were essential to our success during the last enrollment period, walking Coloradans through the enrollment process and enabling the marketplace to be nimble and adjust rapidly in order to head steadily toward financial sustainability.

By choosing to invest in our own state-based marketplace, we have been able to adhere to a mission that ensures Colorado-specific needs are addressed, increasing access, affordability and choice in health insurance. The assistance network is the foundation of achieving those goals, because it gives Coloradans in every county access to personalized education and support for choosing, using and maintaining the health coverage that meets their individual needs.

We have seen what the assistance network accomplished in the last enrollment period. In addition to serving 111,241 Coloradans through outreach efforts across the state and supporting the enrollment of approximately 46,000 individuals in public and private insurance, it strengthened community partnerships and provided feedback fundamental to the success of the exchange. Consumer guides attended trainings, webinars and advisory meetings with Connect for Health, advocating for uninsured Coloradans trying to access coverage. They waited patiently alongside their clients for solutions to enrollment issues, provided input in a constantly fluctuating environment, voiced concerns about how the exchange was working, and alerted Connect for Health when new problems arose. In the end, it is clear that without these dedicated individuals and programs, thousands of Coloradans would have slipped through the cracks.

When the marketplace’s board first established their goals, they challenged Connect for Health to engage a broad base of community stakeholders and ensure it was meeting the unique needs of Coloradans. That challenge was met and has exceeded expectations. Now, as good stewards of the investment we as Coloradans have made into the health of the residents of our state, it is imperative that we maintain the assistance site network and call center to ensure our Colorado solution for health coverage is there for our families for years to come.

Anne Warhover is president of the Colorado Health Foundation.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the view of individual authors.
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