Guest post: Linda Ricci, Co-founder Get Covered New York and MA Student in Health Advocacy, Sarah Lawrence College
The first open enrollment deadline for NY State of Health had barely passed when Get Covered New York members, friends and volunteers got together to mark the stunningly successful enrollment numbers, and more. Get Covered New York (GCNY) is a grassroots public awareness campaign that connects New Yorkers to affordable health coverage. On April 16, GCNY held a celebration, hosted by co-founder Kate Linker, to share the good news about the more than 960,000 enrolled on NY State of Health – and to thank the many volunteers who helped make it happen.
In her remarks, GCNY co-founder, Lois Uttley of Raising Women’s Voices, recalled that two organizations came together at the start, with HCFANY’s health care expertise and the experience in organizing volunteers that Greater NYC for Change contributed. Kate Linker recalled the first group meeting that took place in her loft, which included HCFANY members Elisabeth Benjamin of the Community Service Society, Mark Hannay of Metro NY Health Care for All Campaign and Heidi Siegfried of Center for Independence of the Disabled-NY and New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage. Their efforts resulted in volunteer participation beyond anything these collaborators could have hoped for.
Starting last summer, GCNY volunteers went out into the field and made calls to spread the word to uninsured people that new health insurance options are available on NY State of Health. These tireless volunteers canvassed at street fairs in Harlem, including a Great Day in Harlem, and at health fairs, collaborating with the Bronx Community Health Network and others. As the weather got cooler, volunteers took to soup kitchens like the one at the Holy Apostles Church in Chelsea and to making presentations at PTAs, including at PS 69 in the Bronx. They asked uninsured people for their contact data for follow up and directed them to local navigators. From February on, GCNY organized weekly phone banks where volunteers made calls to the uninsured with reminders to sign up, and again encouraged them to call a navigator.
The success of this approach can be measured in numbers and stories. In the past year, Get Covered New York:
- Engaged 120 volunteers,
- Organized 80 events,
- Made 1500 calls during phone banks, and
- Urged more than 4,000 uninsured people to sign up!
It was enormously satisfying to hear the stories of those who got their health insurance prompted by the work of GCNY. Amy Zarin, a fellow with Raising Women’s Voices, told moving stories. She played an audio recording of her conversation with Kiara*, a part-time retail worker.
Amy recounted Kiara telling her “Get Covered New York, whatever you have been doing, keep doing what you do!” Kiara continued, “You never know who you will meet or what impact you can have on individuals in the community. We need you guys! We seriously need you guys!”
GCNY plans to keep meeting these needs by continuing outreach to those eligible for Medicaid, Child Health Plus and small businesses who can sign up all year long. And other individuals who need insurance can apply in a special enrollment period during the year if they have experienced life-changing events including marriage, the birth of a child, or the loss of a job.
After taking a breather to regroup after open enrollment, volunteers will be out there again to, in the words of Kiara, keep doing what they do.
*Name changed to protect privacy