Hospitals key to insurance exchange enrollment

As the Oct. 1 health insurance exchange enrollment date quickly approaches, hospitals are ramping up their efforts to sign up consumers for coverage through the new online marketplaces, The Washington Post and Kaiser Health News reported.

Some hospitals are opening phone hotlines and conducting community outreach at churches, child-care centers, soup kitchens and health fairs to help uninsured Americans obtain coverage under healthcare reform.

Hospitals also are hiring contractors to enroll consumers or receiving federal grants to train enrollment "navigators."  In fact, as of Aug. 27, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services received more than 1,000 applications from organizations, including hospitals, interested in training staff and volunteers to become Certified Application Counselors that help people understand and apply for coverage under health insurance exchanges.

The California Hospital Association recently released a guidebook to help hospitals enroll uninsured patients in Covered California. The guide also offers a step-by-step process for hospitals to determine patients' eligibility for exchange subsidies.

However, consumer advocates worry hospitals could direct consumers to whatever insurance might give the organizations the best rates and not necessarily the plan that is best for patients.

"I do believe that on the whole, providers will do a good job of assisting consumers," Tricia Brooks, an assistant professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, told the Post and KHN. "But I do understand the concern, and I think we should be monitoring them."

Meanwhile, thanks to mounting state and federal regulatory scrutiny of the navigator program, a company that has helped people enroll in Medicaid will not be able to enroll uninsured consumers in the exchanges, the Associated Press reported.

Only days before Cardon Outreach's decision to return more than $800,000 in federal funding to train navigators, Florida health officials ordered county health departments across the state to ban navigators from their property, the AP noted.

For more:
- read the Post-KHN article
- read the AP article