North Carolina insurance enrollments among top in nation

03/29/2014 11:16 PM

02/18/2015 5:04 PM

North Carolina’s well-organized, grass-roots effort to enroll the uninsured has attracted national attention for its effectiveness despite decisions by state lawmakers to resist implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

As of March 1, North Carolina had enrolled more than 200,000 people for coverage through the federal marketplace. That was the third-highest enrollment among the 36 states that chose to use the federal website instead of creating its own state-run marketplace. Among all states, North Carolina was fifth-highest in enrollments.

Why has North Carolina done so much better than other states where lawmakers have not embraced the federal law? An article at Healthinsurance.org, an independent website offering consumer information on affordable health and medical coverage, attempted to answer that.

It credits a public-private partnership among health care providers, social service agencies and other community leaders that “took an all-hands-on-deck” approach and has steadily worked to enroll people since the Oct. 1 launch.

“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of great work,” said Sorien Schmidt, state director of Enroll America, a nonprofit group working with other social service agencies to enroll the uninsured.

North Carolina has more than 600 trained “navigators” and certified application counselors working on outreach and enrollment for a variety of agencies, including Charlotte-based North Carolina MedAssist, Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont and C.W. Williams Community Health Center.

The groups established a toll-free phone number (855-733-3711) that consumers could call to get appointments for in-person enrollment assistance anywhere in the state.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, one of two private insurers offering policies through the federal exchange in North Carolina, opened retail stores, including two in Charlotte, and sent a mobile van to community events across the state to offer easier access for the uninsured.

Schmidt said her staff of 14 and several hundred volunteers have collected names and phone numbers of 8,000 North Carolina residents who have expressed interest in getting insurance, and they’ve been trying to contact every one. Enroll America representatives, in partnership with other groups, have fanned out across the state.

“We have been anywhere and everywhere that someone wants to talk,” Schmidt said. “Parking lots of Food Lion groceries, YMCAs, churches.”

Schmidt said Monday is not the end of the process. “We came in knowing that it was going to take more than one open-enrollment period. It takes a little while to understand the program and how it works for you.”

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