STD warriors see insurance can save lives, prevent epidemics

Clinic IPAs

Kathy Silverman, Michal Blum and Hal Garcia-Smith assist patients enroll in health insurance at the STD Clinic at Harborview.

There’s been a double-good news story on AIDS in recent years — that it can be effectively treated using medications, and the treatment reduces the risk for transmitting HIV through sex.

The trouble is that the population at highest risk for HIV is often low-income and uninsured. That makes it hard for them to take an expensive mix of pills, on an ongoing basis.

Now, the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act can make these medications far more accessible to those infected with HIV, in addition to increasing the likelihood that this group gets tested in the first place.

This is one reason why Public Health’s STD Clinic at Harborview has embraced the new role of health insurance advocacy, integrating enrollment into the daily operations of the clinic.

“The population that we see at the clinic is here because we offer services regardless of ability to pay,” said Michal Blum, a full-time In-Person Assister at the STD Clinic. “So that brings in populations that might not be working, that might not have access to regular care, more high-risk populations and people that we know could benefit from having personal assistance enrolling in health insurance.”

Once inside the sliding scale clinic, patients see brochures and posters promoting Washington Healthplanfinder. At check-in, the front desk staff asks each patient about his or her insurance and flags those without coverage. At that point, the In-Person Assisters are alerted to the uninsured patients.

Don’t let them slip through the cracks

“We’re trying to meet them here while they’re here, either before their visit while they are waiting for the provider, or after the provider sees them,” said Blum. Often, Blum or one of the other Assisters, Kathy Silverman and Hal Garcia-Smith, will follow up with phone calls or emails, too.

To date the STD Clinic staff have enrolled hundreds of patients in insurance, and educated hundreds more about the new health exchange, who may otherwise not have had frank conversations about health coverage or offers of personal assistance.

“This clinic is known to be a safe and confidential site,” said Blum. “People do come back here. They have a history of trusting the clinic and that allows us to build a relationship a little more quickly.”

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