In Homer, it’s neighbor helping neighbor to ensure everyone has healthcare

In the midst of a busy season, another deadline looms as open enrollment for the 2018 Health Insurance Marketplace ends Dec. 15. The open enrollment period is the time for folks to choose their health insurance coverage for 2018. This year, Alaskans have five plan options available on the marketplace.

Open enrollment for 2018 was cut short by six weeks compared to last year. The shorter marketplace enrollment period has created challenges for Alaskans to enroll or change their healthcare plans, especially in conjunction with the deep budget cuts that our current administration made to funding for outreach efforts for the Affordable Care Act. These budget cuts specifically affected the marketing and outreach efforts for marketplace enrollment.

In Alaska, Get Covered Alaska, the statewide Navigator program for Alaska’s health insurance marketplace, was cut by more than $1 million dollars or 25 percent of their budget — this translated into decreased funding for marketing and outreach. This marketing and outreach was how the majority of Alaskans were informed on how, when and where they could participate in the marketplace.

This decreased marketing and outreach by Get Covered Alaska created an opportunity for local community based organizations to collaborate. The result has been shared marketing on open enrollment, marketplace options and that local organizations have Certified Application Counselors (CACs) or Marketplace Navigators. These CACs are individuals within communities that have been specifically trained to help folks walk through marketplace options on and ensure that individuals and families are able to access the best plans for their unique healthcare needs.

They help people access the most affordable plans as well as determine eligibility for other programs including Medicaid. In 2015, Medicaid eligibility in Alaska was expanded as part of the Affordable Care Act. This expansion has since provided comprehensive healthcare coverage for tens of thousands of Alaskans who otherwise could not afford health insurance.

In Homer, CACs are housed within three Mobilizing for Action through Planning &Partnerships, or MAPP, organizations; SVT Health and Wellness, South Peninsula Hospital and Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic. In the face of federal cuts, these local organizations have stepped up to save the day. They all have the shared goal of increasing the resilience of our community by providing as many individuals and families as possible with healthcare coverage.

These local organizations have created joint advertising, emphasizing the importance of accessing health insurance and highlighting the multiple access points for assistance with the process. All three have real people, right here in our community, available to help others navigate the marketplace process — step by step.

A fourth MAPP member, Homer United Methodist Church, hosted an event in conjunction with Alaska Primary Care Association and Get Covered Alaska on Dec. 3. The intention of this event was to educate community members about the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans Benefits, as well as to answer questions and connect community members with our local resources.

With the enrollment period quickly coming to a close, please encourage friends, family members and colleagues with questions on health insurance to contact one of our local CACs today:

• SVT Health and Wellness, Monica Anderson or Karri Wick These budget cuts specifically affected the marketing and outreach efforts for marketplace enrollment strom at 235-2228

• South Peninsula Hospital, Michelle Kruglak at 235-0219

• Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, Rose Wohlgemuth at 235-3436.

MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning &Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, emotional, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.

Stephanie Stillwell, BSN, RN has worked as a Public Health Nurse for the State of Alaska, is currently working for Ninilchik Traditional Council Community Clinic, and is highly active in Southern Kenai Peninsula community health and wellness coalitions.

For more on enrolling in the health insurance marketplace, see story, page 1.