In an era increasingly dominated by technology, a new study has underscored the importance of person-to-person assistance in a critical realm: health insurance for chronically underserved populations. Consumers found it easier to get and use information from in-person assistance, and rated information from in-person assistance significantly better compared to information from a telephone helpline or the website of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace. In-person assisters played a crucial role in enrolling hard-to-reach, underserved populations, according to a study conducted by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement at the Yale School of Public Health for the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.
The evaluation examined the enrollment experiences of people from underserved urban areas of Connecticut, and sought to evaluate the outreach and enrollment process from the perspective of consumers and the in-person assisters and navigators who worked with them. In-person assistance provided a critical service for consumers who were unable to navigate the helpline and website, the study found.
As trusted resources in the communities where they worked, assisters were clearly valued by their customers. The study shows high rates of satisfaction overall with the enrollment process and emphasizes that in-person assistance was preferred by customers when they were asked to compare it to their interactions with the website or helpline.
Consumers mostly heard about AHCT through ‘word of mouth’ and ‘family and friends’. Other sources of initial awareness, cited less frequently, were news programs, tv commercials, newspaper ads, library, internet and radio commercials.
Satisfaction with the application and enrollment processes was high among survey participants. Ninety-five percent of respondents reported that the application and enrollment process was "definitely" or "somewhat" easy. Twenty-nine percent reported some dissatisfaction with the amount of time required to enroll in a health plan.
The study found thta 90 percent would "definitely" recommend Access Health CT (AHCT), and an additional 9 percent would "probably" recommend AHCT.
During the open enrollment period of October 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, the federal government was the major funder of in-person assistance, providing over $2.5 million in funding to the program. The reported noted that “This level of funding is no longer available, yet, the need for assistance, both for the upcoming open enrollment period (November 15, 2014, to February 15, 2015) and beyond, is great.” Plans for continuing in-person assistance, offered at store-front facilities, are under consideration according to published reports, with specifics uncertain.
Consumers most often wanted to learn about the cost of plans and the availability of financial assistance for insurance premiums. Of consumers who did not enroll, the most common reason was the need for more information, according to the study.
The report also noted that "because Connecticut is a national leader in the implementation of the US health insurance marketplace, the Connecticut experience may inform policy in other states and at the federal level."