Jersey City -USA, Mayor Steven Fulop promoted access to healthcare through Affordable Care Act as a priority in his administration. City workers were trained as counsellors and helped residents to enroll through the health insurance marketplace - healthcare.gov.
The Governor Chris Christie opposed the Affordable Care Act, so democratic elected officials felt that the local government could help residents with enrollments.
"The opportunity for real change is at the municipal and city level," said Fulop at a conference on ACA enrollment held in Princeton yesterday.
Planning for the open enrollment period, will begin on November 15. The first period, which officially ended on March 31 but was extended into April, led to 161,775 people signing up through the marketplace. In addition,142,023 more adults have enrolled in Medicaid.
Enrollment periods are limited for marketplace insurance to prevent residents from only seeking health benefits when they are ill.
Dennis Gonzalez - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional Executive Officer, said there are ways in which local officials can help residents get insurance. They can contact leaders of groups that include uninsured residents to make sure they know about the ACA, support events that promote health insurance and offer space in public buildings to hold enrollment sessions. They can add links to healthcare.gov on municipal websites.
"I think we actually underestimated how important elected officials can be," Gonzalez said of federal officials.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) pointed out another potential avenue for increasing enrollment - by coordinating enrollment efforts with other social services, such as allowing residents to apply for insurance when they seek home energy assistance.
Pallone said that enrollment in New Jersey, while "pretty good, could have been better," at least partly because the Christie administration didn't spend the $7.67 million which was awarded by the federal government to support the marketplace.
Pallone also said that even after years of debate and publicity about the ACA, many residents remain unaware of basic features of the law, such as the existence of subsidies that can greatly reduce insurance costs and the expansion of Medicaid to cover more low-income residents.
Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald alleged that Christie's presidential ambitions led to the loss of the $7.67 million. He said it was important that primary care doctors and hospitals needed to inform the public about the ACA options.
Fulop stressed an early start in Jersey City's efforts put city officials in a position where they could deal with problems as they arose and continue to support the ACA enrollment efforts even when the website wasn't functioning.
Andrew Kitchenman, May 2014
Hannah Punitha (IRDA Licence Number: 2710062)