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WHY OUTREACH AND ENROLLMENT MATTERS by Reverend Hurmon Hamilton

This article is more than 11 years old.

Afterward Jesus returned to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches. One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”
Instantly, the man was healed! John 5:1-9 (New Living Translation)

As we celebrate the second year anniversary of health care reform in our Commonwealth, I often think about the Christian story noted above. Oh, how it summarizes the “Wonder” of Chapter 58!

In this narrative, a man suffering from a 38 year illness lay near a pool among crowds of sick people. Once a year the waters of this pool would bubble (stirred by an angel) and the first one to step in would be healed. The crowds of sick people who did not get into the pool would have to keep waiting for years to come. Not so long ago, this was the case for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts’ residents. They lived in a city comprised of some of the greatest hospitals and medical schools in the world, but their access to affordable, quality care was severely limited. For years they waited, prayed and hoped for a miracle. Today, two years after the miracle of Chapter 58, the wait is over for 340,000 people—and they are celebrating.

It is now time for all of us to shift our attention to the next phase of health reform - controlling cost, without capping enrollment or cutting benefits. This will mean that all of the stakeholders, the angels if you will, who made Chapter 58 a reality – will now have to do their part to make Healthcare Reform Part 2 a reality. But as we do, we must be sure to finish the first phase well, by insuring the continuation of strong outreach and enrollment until no one is left lying close to a pool of quality care without access. To this end, I applaud the House for level-funding the MassHealth outreach and enrollment grants at 3.5 million dollars for the FY09 budget. Outreach and enrollment work ensures that residents across the state are informed, enrolled, and STAY enrolled in the new health insurance programs now offered through Chapter 58. With 340,000 residents enrolled in health insurance and thousands more to go, the counseling, guidance and support provided through outreach and enrollment is essential. How tragic it would be for any residents of our Commonwealth, when asked during this year or the next, “Would you like to get health care coverage?”to respond like the man in the story above, “I can’t…for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.” It is the task of well-funded state wide outreach and enrollment efforts to inform all; regardless of language, economic, or other barriers, “this is a new day….affordable healthcare is available and accessible right now!”

Next week, the house will vote on amendments to the budget and while outreach and enrollment grants were adequately funded, some technical language changes are needed to ensure the greatest success possible. Therefore, we strongly urge House leaders to vote YES to amendment number 457 sponsored by Rep. Kulik, with sign-ons from 32 legislators, in support of technical language changes to ensure greater stability and continuity in funding vital outreach and enrollment work across the state. The technical changes would institutionalize the grant program and set up a regular expectation for the annual grants. This would allow the agency to plan for the grants well in advance of the fiscal year and not leave a hiatus every summer and fall when the groups receiving the grants, particularly the traditional grants, are unfunded. This is smart policy and it makes sense.

As we celebrate the 2nd year of health reform with much pride, we rejoice that there will be a well-funded system in place that will enable thousands more to hear what the man in the story heard, “your long wait is over! The miracle of quality, affordable healthcare is not just for others, but it is for you! Get up, enroll, and, prayerfully, be healed. And Oh by the way, ‘we are here to help you’! Happy two year anniversary everybody!

Reverend Hurmon Hamilton
President, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

This program aired on April 22, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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