KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Erin Burroughs knocked on the door and waited and then knocked again. No answer. She retraced her steps down the porch stairs but said she doubted anyone was home.
“C’mon people,” she said. “We are here to help you. Honest to God, we are here to help you.”
Undeterred, Burroughs hurried to the next house on East 28th Street, trying to spread the word about the potential benefits of the federal health-reform law.
Her turf was a neighborhood where nearly a third of the families live below the federal poverty level, according to 2011 census data.
A volunteer from Independence, Mo., Burroughs was part of a nine-person team deployed last weekend by Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO), a faith-based organization headquartered in the city. The crew included CCO staff.
Since mid-October, the organization has gone door-to-door on Saturdays in some of the most economically challenged ZIP codes in the city. According to CCO, these also are neighborhoods where life expectancy is far below that in better-off parts of the city.
“Those conversations that we have at the doors are some of the most meaningful conversations that we can have with people,” said Kathryn Evans, a community organizer with CCO.
The team members tell residents about the options under the Affordable Care Act, she said, but they also seek to mobilize citizens for future campaigns to improve wellbeing in the neighborhoods.
The CCO contact, Kathryn Evans, can be reached at 816-866-5358 or at Kathryn@cco.org
The HCF contact, Mindy Brissey, can be reached at 573-340-5670 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials with the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City (HCF) said door-to-door work is also part of a $700,000 plan they’re pursuing to support the health insurance component of the Affordable Care Act. The foundation’s service area includes six counties in Missouri and Kansas.
Uninsured and the ‘coverage gap’
The health-reform law, commonly known as Obamacare, provides subsidies for eligible households to purchase health insurance through online marketplaces.
Nearly one in five Kansas City residents is uninsured, and the health-reform law provides subsidies to people with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $23,550 to $94,200 annually for a family of four).
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 161,000 Kansas residents and 386,000 Missouri residents are eligible for health insurance subsidies through the marketplace.
Under Obamacare, the federal government has pledged to pay at least 90 percent of the cost of newly eligible recipients in states that expand Medicaid eligibility to include people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $31,322 for a family of four).
According to the foundation, about 5.2 million Americans will fall in the so-called “coverage gap,” where they neither qualify for health insurance subsidies nor for their state’s Medicaid program under current eligibility guidelines. Of those, approximately 271,000 live in Missouri or Kansas.
Donna Young of Blue Springs was among the volunteer canvassers with CCO on Saturday.
A mother of five, and a health sciences student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Young said she grew up in an uninsured household in Kansas City, Kan.
Her first trip to the dentist was at age 22, when she finally had employer-based health insurance.
Young said her message at the doorsteps was that the residents have a voice and the power to push for changes such as the expansion of Medicaid. For now, neither Kansas nor Missouri policymakers have opted to expand the program.
“Every individual I talked to was very appreciative, very vocal, about saying, ‘Hey, we thank you guys for being out here with us and having these conversations. It’s amazing you are out here in our neighborhood,’” Young said. “So obviously, hearing those words is really, really wonderful.”
Lots of knock
CCO officials said they hope is to hit about 5,000 doors by the time the open enrollment period for the health insurance marketplace closes at the end of March.
HCF officials said they have a goal of knocking on 60,000 doors between the first of December and the end of open enrollment.
In coordination with CCO, the foundation expects to use a mix of volunteers and professional canvassers. Program Officer Jessica Hembree said the foundation expected to turn over a door-knocking database to CCO for future organizing activities.
Dr. Bridget McCandless, HCF chief executive, said she hoped the doorstep conversations could be that “first essential step in having (residents) move from, ‘I know about insurance,’ to ‘I have to do something about insurance.’”
At one of the homes CCO visited Saturday, it was the Medicaid expansion that seemed to resonate with housemates Andrew James and Wilson Domec.
James said he was an uninsured handyman when he had a heart attack four years ago while also dealing with mini-strokes that felt like gunshots going off in his head.
He’s on Medicaid now, he said, thanks to a friend’s persistence in getting him signed up. It’s a good thing, too, he said, because he’s now dealing with cataracts.
Domec is not as fortunate. He said he couldn’t work construction anymore because of his lung condition.
Medicaid coverage would provide some welcome peace of mind, he said, so if something happened to him, “I would not be set out to die somewhere.”