From health coverage to financial capability, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council helps Chicago families achieve their American dream.
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Community-based organizations (CBOs) have played a crucial role in consumer education outreach and enrollment efforts under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Thanks to these efforts, over 20 million Americans—including four million Latino adults and more than 600,000 Latino children—have access to the individual Marketplace and other coverage options such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
And their efforts are more important than ever.
CBOs provide culturally appropriate information and education to their community, including assistance with enrollment and renewal of coverage, navigation of key services, and health benefits. And this year organizations like UnidosUS Affiliates like Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) in Chicago are working harder than ever to get their communities covered.
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The attempts by Congress and the Trump administration to repeal the ACA—which have failed thanks to dedicated resistance by broad sectors of the country—have caused confusion for individuals and families looking for coverage.
In addition, a destabilization of the Marketplace and elimination of key funds for marketing outreach and navigators have created new challenges for this Open Enrollment period. And perhaps the biggest challenge has been this year’s shortened Open Enrollment period of 45 days (instead of the usual 90)—for most states ending December 15, 2017
But this has not deterred organizations from working to get more of our community covered because the ACA is still the law of the land.
“WE MAKE SURE THEY HAVE EVERYTHING THEY NEED”
ACA navigators like BPNC’s Elizabeth Tellez work Monday through Saturday, often helping families with applications for 90 minutes or more each. While Tellez says they’ve seen roughly the same number of people this period as they did last year, they have also been mindful that the Trump administration needlessly cut the Open Enrollment window in half. This means it’s likely that there are families who believe themselves to have more time to sign up than they actually do.
“We made sure as to call back call back our consumers that had coverage last year to make sure that if they need coverage this year to re-enroll. We’re calling back our clients that we’ve had in previous years as well,” Tellez says.
BPNC also helps families signing up for care get information on doctors’ offices and pharmacies that are close to where they live to ensure that they have ready access to the medical care.
“We make sure they have everything they need before they leave our office,” Tellez adds.
OPENING THE DOOR TO FINANCIAL WELL-BEING
When BPNC’s navigators help families enroll, they also help them compare health coverage plans so they can determine which best meets their needs. While Tellez explains that the biggest concern about enrollment are focused on price, she and BPNC’s other navigator explain how getting health insurance can be a tool for financial stability.
For example, when enrolled in a health plan, certain doctors’ visits and prescription drugs always cost the same to the person who has insurance.
“Having a fixed co-payment is very helpful,” Tellez explains. “They know that they’re going to pay that every time, and they don’t have to worry about that going up.”
Health insurance plans also have caps on how much someone is required to pay if they, for example, need to have surgery. Tellez recalls one woman who needed to have emergency surgery, “She had an emergency, she had to have surgery, and her medical bills were over 40,000 dollars, and where do you get the money to pay that from?”
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GOING BEYOND ENROLLING FAMILIES IN HEALTH COVERAGE
Making sure that people have everything they need extends beyond just enrolling families in health care. Tellez explains that if someone is concerned that they won’t be able to afford to enroll, they refer the person to their Housing Department, which runs a financial capabilities program.
BPNC’s financial capability team is small, comprised of two financial coaches and two case managers. But in two years of operation the staff has helped families adopt good spending habits, improve their credit, reduce their debt, and even purchase a home.
When an ACA navigator refers someone to BPNC’s financial coaches, the financial coach collects information on the person’s income, debt, and credit information to analyze what financial help would be the best for their personal situation.
They then work with them on strategies to improve their household budget, debt, or credit, depending on what their needs are. BPNC’s coaches then follow up with them every 30 days. Every three months they agree to a new set of goals.
While BPNC offers personalized assistance with financial planning, they also provide workshops to help educate the community on different financial topics, such as creating a spending plan, establishing and improving credit, banking products, free income tax services, and more.
It’s one more way to build up healthy, strong individuals and families to propel our communities forward.
To find out more about Open Enrollment, visit our page—you’ll get more information on how to shop for health care options in your area, and be able to see if you qualify for financial assistance for insurance coverage. Don’t delay—sign up before December 15 and make sure that you and your family have peace of mind in the new year.