By Nicole Rodriguez-Robbins

In December 2013, the RCHN Community Health Foundation launched its Outreach & Enrollment Initiative, funding new projects at Primary Care Associations and community health centers in five states.  In the three month period between January 1st and March 31st of this year, RCHN CHF grantees have helped over 5,100 people enroll in health insurance plans.  Not included in this number are the hundreds of additional contacts made, and applications that are still pending approval. Each of these grantees has targeted hard-to-reach populations to help them overcome barriers to enrollment.  RCHN CHF’s Outreach & Enrollment Initiative focused primarily on states that opted out of Medicaid expansion, where health centers are confronting significantly greater outreach and enrollment challenges compared to those in states that have fully implemented the law through Medicaid expansion and without outreach and enrollment restrictions.

The Foundation made grants to Primary Care Associations in Maine, Wisconsin, and Missouri, each working in partnership with member CHCs and each confronting challenges unique to their state. For example, the Missouri Primary Care Association “Gateway to Marketplace” focuses on residents of the St. Louis area who were formerly covered under Missouri’s “Gateway to Health” program that ended at the beginning of 2014. Thanks to the efforts of Missouri PCA and their CHC partners in the state, over 500 Missourians who lost their Gateway coverage were successfully reenrolled through health plans made available to them under the Affordable Care Act.

RCHN CHF also funded projects at Asian Health Services in Oakland, California and at Morris Heights Community Health Center in the Bronx, New York   targeting difficult-to-reach populations who face unique obstacles to enrollment, including working poor, non-native English speakers and “young invincibles” —Americans under 30 who have traditionally forgone  purchasing health insurance.

These current, on-the-ground projects are representative of the outreach and enrollment efforts across the country, and have contributed to the successful enrollment of 8 million newly-covered Americans. President Obama has hailed the initial figures following the initial March 31 enrollment deadline as a sign that the Act is working, stating, “The Affordable Care Act is serving more people at less cost.”  The early outreach t numbers include low-income residents in non-Medicaid expansion states who fell within a “coverage gap”— with income levels too high to be eligible for Medicaid, but too low to qualify for cost-saving premium subsidies.  The figures also reflect assistance provided to those facing significant socioeconomic and language barriers, who faced greater challenges to accessing traditional and online ACA resources.

Despite initial ramp-up challenges, including technical problems with,  and long wait times at ACA call centers, Americans lined up to enroll in coverage with the help of Certified Application Counselors and Navigators—including Community Health Center staff—across the country.   Our grantees have made significant strides in  improving access to care by helping people enroll in health care coverage, and will continue to do so as we move toward 2014-2015’s open enrollment period this fall. We celebrate their success and look forward to our grantees’ continued progress over the next year in helping more people gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.