July 31, 2012

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Elisabeth Benjamin’s slides Shawn Nowicki’s slides

On July 31, the New York Health Foundation hosted a conversation with State officials and consumer representatives to highlight key opportunities to educate and engage individuals and small business owners about what the law will mean for them.

Donna Frescatore, Executive Director of New York’s Health Benefit Exchange, highlighted the activities the Exchange will undertake to educate and engage consumers about the law, and to create customer-friendly eligibility and enrollment systems. Ms. Frescatore noted that New York has an opportunity to build on the success of existing initiatives, including the New York Health Options program, which operates a central call center for all public coverage programs, handling 80,000 calls per month. She also pointed to New York’s successful Facilitated Enrollment program, which has provided culturally and linguistically tailored support to help 6 million New Yorkers enroll in SCHIP and Medicaid. The State has also been focused on improving its information technology systems to accommodate the 1.2 million New Yorkers who are expected to gain health care coverage as health reform is implemented, and plans to conduct a robust marketing campaign to educate New Yorkers as the Exchange gets up and running. The State’s most recent proposal for a Federal grant to support the establishment of the Exchange includes requests for funds to support information technology, help consumers navigate the new health care systems, and to develop the consumer outreach and marketing campaign to connect New Yorkers to quality, affordable coverage.

Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President of Health Policy Initiatives at Community Service Society, shared lessons from the Community Health Advocates (CHA) program and Small Business Assistance Program, statewide networks that provide information and assistance to individuals and small businesses that have questions and concerns about health care coverage. The CHA has handled more than 80,000 cases since November 2010, serving consumers in every county of the State and providing services in 12 languages. The program helps people enroll in health care coverage programs, provides information about coverage options, and helps consumers navigate the health care system and get access to care. Over the course of the program, Community Service Society has captured demographic information that can help inform the Exchange’s outreach and marketing efforts; for example, uninsured New Yorkers with very low incomes are more likely to seek services in person than over the phone, while higher-income uninsured New Yorkers prefer a telephone helpline. Similarly, the Small Business Assistance Program offers important lessons for the Exchange: most small businesses (and their accountants) are unaware of available tax credits for offering health care coverage and are hungry for more real-time information about the amount of their potential credit.

Finally, Shawn Nowicki, Director of Health Policy at the Northeast Business Group on Health, discussed ongoing efforts to engage small businesses in offering affordable coverage to their employees. He noted that only 20% of small business owners are familiar with the idea of the health insurance Exchange, so much work needs to be done to raise awareness among employers, employees, and trusted advisors like brokers, accountants, and trade associations. Keeping the information simple, clear, and relevant, and delivering that information through multiple channels (direct mail, in-person outreach, radio, and social media) will be essential to increasing awareness and helping employers make the best decisions for their employees and their businesses.

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