Uninsured in King County? Outreach team has a plan to help you

The Open Enrollment period for purchasing discount health insurance begins next week, and King County is offering free expert help – with special emphasis on areas where large numbers of uninsured people live and work.

Those areas include south King County cities such as Auburn and Federal Way, along with some neighborhoods in Seattle and Bellevue. Some of the major enrollment events this year include:

Navigators preparing for an enrollment event

Health insurance Navigators preparing for an enrollment event at Southcenter Mall, Nov. 2014

  • Sat. Nov. 7 – Seattle City Hall, 10am-3pm
  • Sat. Nov. 14 – The Outlet Collection (mall), Auburn, 10am-3pm
  • Sat. Nov. 21 – Bellevue Crossroads Shopping Center, 10am-3pm
  • Sat. Jan. 9 – Third Place Commons, Lake Forest Park, 10am-3pm
  • Sat. Jan. 16 – Federal Way Commons, 10am-3pm

Health insurance assistance will also return to public library branches in neighborhoods across the county.

This year, many people signing up for insurance can also get Metro Transit’s discount transit passes (called ORCA LIFT).

Taxi drivers, restaurant and nail salon workers

Overall, a targeted outreach effort will help the remaining adults and families in King County who do not have insurance — and connect them with Washington Healthplanfinder. Public Health—Seattle & King County has analyzed enrollment patterns and data from the US Census Bureau to identify zip codes where there are likely larger numbers of people who remain uninsured.  Those areas will get extra attention. Continue reading

Eat, shop, and protect yourself & family at special enrollment events

Southcenter To DoOver the next two weekends, you can get lunch, see a movie, buy a shirt – and protect your family with health insurance.

The new enrollment season with Washington Healthplanfinder (under the Affordable Care Act) starts Nov. 15. Enrollment experts from Public Health and our partner organizations will be helping people sign-up at:

Last year, 85% of people who signed-up got financial help to pay for their insurance.

If you’re enrolling online from home and need some help, the Public Health website has tips for where to turn. Continue reading

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.”

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To speak to South King County, it helps to know 9 languages


Annie Safar and Annya Pintak stand at Global to Local’s Connection Desk, which puts South King County residents in touch with community resources.

You may have heard how ethnic diversity has blossomed in South King County. The number of residents who self-identified as Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Native American or belonging to two or more races went up by an astonishing 66 percent in the 2010 census.

This includes many immigrants and others who have never had health insurance — individuals for whom words such as “deductible” or “copay” are not only foreign, but have no equivalent in their native language.

Global to Local is one community partner working to communicate the new health law to this population.

Opening the door for a diverse population

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Community college highlights complexity of immigrants

SCCCESLpresESL students attend an Affordable Care Act informational at South Seattle Community College.

South Seattle Community College hosted a spirited conversation on the Affordable Care Act in January.

Approximately 80 ESL students and staff at the college met with outreach specialists Callista Kennedy and Luis Salazar of Public Health – Seattle & King County, to discuss how the Affordable Care Act affects them.

Originally intended as a basic overview to the ACA, the open forum quickly revealed the enrollment complexities surrounding immigration and family status.  Continue reading

An Executive-level thanks for extra hours during enrollment surge

Executive Dow Constantine says thanks to Llonia Patterson of Public Health's Access & Outreach team

King County Executive Dow Constantine says thanks to Llonia Patterson of Public Health’s Access & Outreach team.

As thousands of residents scrambled to apply for health insurance before a Dec. 23 deadline, many of them needed personal help. And often, the friendly face greeting them at a library or community center belongs to a member of Public Health’s Access and Outreach group.

The team worked nights and weekends, and in the final hours fielded calls at an improvised call-center to solve some of the most challenging problems with online enrollments in Washington Healthplanfinder.

“I make sure to smile before I answer the call,” said Llonia Patterson, who’s been with Public Health nearly nine years and is used to handling stressed out phone-calls. “It helps me make sure I have a smile in my voice and don’t sound stern to the client.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine stopped by the 10th floor of the Chinook Building to thank the team for their efforts and learn more about this extended outreach. In the brief moments between a steady stream of phone calls from uninsured residents, he shook hands with staff and saw why this work requires such a personal touch.

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IPAs venture into snow, mountains to enroll 600 seasonal workers

Bundled up IPAs at Stevens Pass

Bundled up IPAs (Jen Covert, Penny Lara and Willie Allen) at Stevens Pass

They’re working weekends, evenings … and now venturing into the deep snow, to help people sign-up for health insurance.

Stevens Pass ski resort has about 600 seasonal/part-time workers. The resort does insure its permanent, full-time staff, but it wants this year’s seasonal staff to be insured, too.

New workers are attending orientations, filling out forms, etc., so it’s a good time for them to enroll in an insurance plan. They can make those choices any time, online, and pick a plan that best fits their needs. In-Person Assisters are there — from Public Health – Seattle & King County along with Snohomish, Chelan and Douglas counties — to help with any hickups they encounter in the system and guide them through the online process.

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Demand for insurance grows, puts spotlight on In-Person Assisters

Carolina Marx was happy to have insurance when her daughter was born – and now she’s helping others get covered through Washington Healthplanfinder.

Carolina Marx has insurance for her own daughter – and she’s helping others get covered through Washington Healthplanfinder

A day in the life …

Meet the unsung heroes of the health reform roll-out — in Washington state and across the country. In-Person Assisters (IPAs) are helping folks navigate the Washington Healthplanfinder website, compare coverage plans and overcome any technical barriers to enrollment.

Without IPAs, countless people would be unable to access the health care coverage they’re eligible for.

A network of IPAs fanned out across King County, starting on October 1st. They each have 25-30 hours of certification training. Their focus has been on clients who have limited access to computers, speak limited English, or have other barriers to using the online enrollment system.

They’ve also become experts at solving error codes during these early stages, as the state and federal websites have worked out bugs in the systems.

“They get so excited — I’ve even had people cry!”

Carolina Marx, an IPA with Public Health – Seattle & King County, never knows what to expect going into work each day.   Continue reading

I got a letter about my insurance, do I need a broker or “assister”?

More than 500 people in King County have been trained as “In-Person Assisters,” to help people enroll in the new Washington Healthplanfinder. but, there are also private insurance agents who help people pick an insurance plan.  What’s the difference?

Elisa Hahn of KING5 TV explained the difference in a story just before the system launched:IPA Jefferson Rose on KING5

“Most in-person assisters have a background in community outreach. They have been trained and certified to help navigate the exchange process. By law, they must be impartial and cannot recommend a particular plan. They receive no commissions and their service is free.

“For the state certified brokers, their expertise is selling insurance. They have also been trained and certified to sell insurance on the Exchange. They can recommend what plan they think is better for you. They do receive commissions from insurance carriers, but their services are free for the customer.

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The first class of In-Person Assisters gets certified

Public Health -- Seattle & King County staff become the first group of Certified In-Person Assisters.

Public Health — Seattle & King County staff become the first group of Certified In-Person Assisters.

As the daunting task of enrolling 180,000 King County residents draws near, community members and county employees alike are forming a fleet of “In-Person Assisters.”

They’re trained, certified one-on-one guides who help ordinary people navigate the murky waters of health insurance coverage.

On Friday, Sept. 6, a group of county employees became the first to earn the “IPA” title.

After a day-long training, all 14 Client Service Specialists at Public Health – Seattle & King County passed the test to become Certified In-Person Assisters. This is the first group in the county (and possibly the state) to be completely trained and certified. Additionally, four Administrative Service Specialists completed the training and have either passed the test or are scheduled to take it.

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