Guest Blogger: Maryanne Tomazic, Field Coordinator, Raising Women’s Voices
What do consumers, health providers, advocates and community leaders such as clergy know about the New York State Health Benefits Exchange? What suggestions do they have for city, state and federal officials about key aspects of Exchange development, such as outreach to diverse New Yorkers to inform them about new health coverage options that will be available beginning in October 2013?
Health Care for All New York is sponsoring a series of 11 roundtable discussions on these topics across the state this month. On Tuesday, two of HCFANY’s steering committee members — Raising Women’s Voices-NY and Children’s Defense Fund-NY — organized and facilitated a roundtable discussion at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. It was co-sponsored by the Public Health Association of New York City.
Consumer advocates, health care providers, community leaders, and policy makers came together to discuss five different topics related to the Exchange:
1. Designing consumer outreach and assistance that will help hard-to-reach populations learn about their coverage options and enroll.
2. Should the state create a Basic Health Plan?
3. How can the Exchange promote health equity?
4. What standards should the Exchange set for participating health plans, such as to ensure adequate provider networks?
5. How can the Exchange encourage public participation in Exchange decision-making?
The roundtable generated animated discussion about the various aspects of the state exchange. Roundtable participants emphasized the importance of generating awareness about the health exchange and of decreasing barriers that might prevent consumers from engaging with the exchange.
“There are people who have no idea that a change is going to take place,” said Pastor Robert Foley, Sr. (pictured above) of Cosmopolitan Church of the Lord Jesus. “We need a ton of [public service announcements] generating awareness, enhancing awareness and sustaining awareness. People need to know there are changes taking place and it has to do with you.”
Participants also highlighted the importance of making sure that groups chosen to serve as health exchange “navigators” are accessible, speak the language of the community members they serve and are culturally sensitive.
“The Bronx is 41% immigrant. You will have the fear of anything government related, and the insurance terminology is difficult. We need languages so that people can access this new system… We need to have consumer assistance in Spanish, Albanian, Russian, Cambodian, and Urdu, for example,” said Melissa Cebollero (pictured above), Director of Health and Human Services for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (pictured above) closed the conversation by encouraging the community leaders and health advocates to stay involved and engaged with this process. She said, “[Legislators] don’t have influence unless our communities are influential. If our community is very active, very vocal, that is where our power comes from.”
Legislators and members of the five health exchange Regional Advisory Committees for New York State will receive reports on these roundtables, so they will know what community members, consumer advocates, health care providers, and policy makers hope to see in the implementation of the health exchange.