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"Another 37,472 Cases for Outreach" by Hannah Frigand

This article is more than 14 years old.

My name is Hannah Frigand, and I am a HelpLine Counselor at Health Care For All. I started working on the HelpLine as an intern January of 2006, and I began working full-time that fall. When I first started taking calls, it was before Health Reform passed, and we were receiving between 100-150 calls a week in English and Spanish. Currently, we receive over a thousand calls a week in English, Spanish and Portuguese and are looking to expand in even more languages. When I started working at the HelpLine, there were only two full-time counselors; now there are five.

In 2008, the HelpLine took a total of 37,472 calls and completed 1,870 health insurance applications over the phone. Behind each application is an individual or family who we have guided through the health care system. For each one of these clients, we have followed up individually and notified them of the status of their application and their next step. Our callers include those who need help making a doctor's appointment or getting prescriptions filled at low- or no-cost; those who need assistance with medical debt or appealing a MassHealth decision; and those who have questions about private insurance or need assistance completing an application for the state programs.

The HelpLine calls have increased in the last few months, and we are hearing a lot of new stories from people who have never turned to the state for assistance before. Here are some of the changes:

- So far this month, the call volume has increased by 67% compared to same time-frame last year.

There are huge increases in both Spanish and Portuguese calls: 216% increase in Portuguese calls and 124% in Spanish calls.

- We are getting calls from people who are collecting unemployment benefits and do not know about the Medical Security Program. This is creating a shift in how we are helping our callers since many of them are eligible for Medical Security Plan and we cannot fill those applications out over the phone. We are answering questions and e-mailing/mailing the applications to them.

- People who have been on COBRA for the past eighteen months are calling, since they have no idea where to look on their own.

- There are more gaps in coverage with the influx of callers who are unemployed; these people are calling because they have ongoing treatments and/or medications.

There are reasons, of course, for these changes. We know that in February of 2008, Massachusetts had about 151,600 unemployed folks (4.4%); in December, that number was up to 235,4000 (6.9%).

I cannot begin to emphasize the importance of outreach workers and HelpLine assistance. It is critical that proper funding be provided to do this work. Now that we have all these great health insurance options in Massachusetts, it is even more important the assistance is there for people who need it. The best way of ensuring continuity of coverage is with outreach workers. This is the only way Health Reform will be successful in keeping the uninsured rate down and utilizing the benefits of the new Health Reform law.

Hannah Frigand, Health Care For All

This program aired on February 23, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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



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