When Maryland’s new health-insurance marketplace opens later this year, thousands of uninsured residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties may become eligible for health coverage and subsidies without realizing it.
But Montgomery County health officials will spearhead an education program to spread the word in hard-to-reach populations.
Using a projected $7.8 million in state and federal grants, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services will serve as a “connector entity,” partnering with several local nonprofits as well as Prince George’s County health officials to provide outreach and enrollment services using a team of trained specialists, said Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the department.
The 12-month grant period began July 1, and five other organizations will serve as connectors for the rest of the state, Anderson said.
The 80 planned specialists for the capital region — Montgomery and Prince George’s — will include certified “navigators,” who can counsel residents about their options and enroll them in health plans and Medicaid, and non-certified “assisters,” who can provide information about plans and enrollment in Medicaid, according to state officials.
Training for the specialists is expected to begin in August and a statewide push for outreach should start by Oct. 1, the day the Maryland Health Connection — the state-run insurance marketplace created to implement federal health-care reform — is scheduled to open, Anderson said.
Maryland Health Connection is anticipating to have 300 navigators and 150 assisters working statewide.
While many will visit the marketplace website to determine if they are eligible for tax credits or other programs to make health-coverage more affordable, some will need more notice and explanation, said Pamela Creekmur, Prince George’s County’s health officer.
“Funding for this program is to get boots on the ground,” Creekmur said. In Prince George’s, specialists will attend health fairs and visit locations such as community health clinics to reach out to patients, she said.
For Casa of Maryland, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights and is one of the groups partnering with the counties on the project, the program is an opportunity to help a lot of mixed-status families, said George Escobar, the organization’s director of health and human services.
In such cases, parents may be undocumented and ineligible for health subsidies, but children born in the country could be eligible, Escobar said. Many parents may not realize this, he said.
Casa will not only be stationing the specialists at its welcome centers in the area, but plans to deploy them to community events, on-site visits to businesses, and even places like laundromats to reach its target of about 55,000 people across both counties, Escobar said.
“It’s a great opportunity for all the organizations involved,” Escobar said.