Connecting Uninsured Residents to Health Insurance

Northern Virginia residents receive help enrolling in health plans from NVFS certified application counselors.

Imagine being told you need heart surgery, but you are about to be fired—and will lose your health insurance—for missing too many days of work. For John, this was a harsh reality. But thanks to the work of Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS), John was able to stay covered by enrolling in a health plan through the federal government’s health insurance marketplace, healthcare.gov.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was first signed into law in 2012, NVFS knew that thousands like John would need help enrolling in health plans to get health insurance. With support from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, NVFS began to organize what became the Marketplace Consortium—a coalition of county agencies, safety-net clinics, non-profits, and other public and private organizations from across Northern Virginia—to respond to this need. And for the 2013/2014 open enrollment period, the coalition recruited and trained approximately 200 volunteers and staff to become certified application counselors (CACs) to help walk consumers through the sign-up process.

“Trying to understand all the new insurance options can be challenging for anyone. It’s even harder if you aren’t computer-savvy or don’t read or speak English,” said Cyndy Dailey, Director of Health and Mental Health Programs for NVFS. “Having someone to guide you through the enrollment process can mean the difference between having insurance or not ever getting it,” she said.

By posting fliers, buying bus ads, talking about the program with media, and other outreach efforts, Consortium members spread the word about enrollment programs offered across the region, including “Sign-Up Saturday” events hosted by NVFS. Individuals and families seeking insurance could also sign up by making appointments with CACs at 43 different locations.

“So many volunteers lent their time because they felt passionately that everyone should have the chance to have health care,” said Ms. Dailey. “And we really needed their help. Some consumers had to come back two and three times to complete the enrollment process. Others also needed help with basics, such as setting up an e-mail account. So it could be quite time-consuming,” she said.

All told, the NVFS and its Consortium partners helped approximately 16,500 uninsured people enroll in health care plans through healthcare.gov.

“For some, our service was a life-saver,” said Ken Sharma, ACA Marketplace Manager for NVFS. “Without insurance, people are stuck making choices between their health and putting food on the table. They can end up with huge medical bills, or lose their jobs, among other problems. The program helped consumers start moving forward with their lives.”