Connecting Consumers to Coverage: Lessons Learned from Assisters for Successful Outreach and Enrollment

In-person enrollment assisters played an important role in connecting consumers with health coverage during the Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period. Based on findings from focus groups with assisters in four cities—Miami, FL; Houston, TX; Raleigh, NC; and Cleveland, OH—this brief identifies key strategies that contributed to their success and priorities and challenges as they look ahead to the next open enrollment period.

Keys to Success

Recruit a committed group of assisters who are able to reach key target populations. The assisters in the study shared a personal commitment to enroll people in health coverage and experience working with the populations they sought to serve. This commitment and experience enabled assisters to build trust with consumers that was critical to breaking down barriers to enrollment.

Foster strong partnerships and collaborations among assisters. Assisters emphasized the importance of partnerships and collaborations across their organizations as a way to share best practices, stay abreast of policy changes, and coordinate outreach and enrollment events. Networking with other assisters was the most consistently helpful strategy for facilitating their work.

Build relationships with local organizations and stakeholders to reach people in their communities. Partnering with key stakeholders in the community helped assisters expand their reach. Assisters noted they could not wait for consumers to come to them; rather they went into the communities where people live and work.

Focus on outreach and consumer education about the law and health insurance. Lack of knowledge among consumers about the health law and new coverage options proved to be a huge hurdle for assisters. Conducting outreach to raise awareness of the law was a necessary step before they could sign people up.

Provide ongoing support to consumers throughout the process, including applying for coverage, selecting a plan, and accessing care. Once they have insurance, helping people understand how to access care has been an unexpected challenge for assisters. They have developed educational materials and tools to assist consumers.

Looking Forward

Even as they face new challenges, assisters are planning for the next open enrollment period. Their priorities for the coming year include strengthening coordination efforts with other assisters, starting outreach earlier with an increased emphasis on the penalty as a way to motivate consumers, and fostering more community ties, especially with physicians. At the same time, overcoming misinformation and lack of awareness about the ACA and ensuring people who are enrolled renew their coverage will present challenges for assisters. The failure of many states to implement the Medicaid expansion will continue to leave many poor adults without an affordable coverage option and place assisters in the difficult position of not being able to help those most in need. Despite these challenges, assisters look forward to building on their experience from the first open enrollment to achieve similar success in year two.

Issue Brief

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