KANSAS CITY, Kan. – About one in four Wyandotte County residents has no health insurance, a rate nearly double that for the nation as a whole, according to census figures.
So, getting people here enrolled in the new health insurance marketplace that is part of the federal Affordable Care Act is a key priority for the Community Health Council of Wyandotte County, a nonprofit formed in 2002 with the goal of improving access to health care.
“We are looking at entering into a conversation with Wyandotte County about this historic opportunity for access to health care,” said Jerry Jones, a Kansas City, Kan., native who took over as the nonprofit’s executive director in May.
He said the group’s goal is to enroll about 5,200 people in marketplace health plans within the next six months.
Though that would be just a fraction of the roughly 41,000 uninsured Wyandotte County residents in the county, Jones said it was a reasonable goal given that the group has no dedicated funding to achieve it. Other groups also will be working to boost health plan enrollment in the county. The marketplace is scheduled to open for business Oct. 1. Health plans secured through it would become effective on Jan. 1, 2014.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month awarded three Kansas organizations about $900,000 to hire “navigators” trained to help individuals purchase insurance through the marketplaces.
In Missouri, two grantees received a combined $1.8 million in navigator funding.
Local health-reform advocates say that various other safety-net providers and funders will need to fill the gaps not covered by the federal navigator funds and the Community Health Council will be among them.
Jones said the need for coverage is particularly acute in Wyandotte County, which consistently ranks at or near the bottom in annual community health rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Community leaders responded to the ranking by creating the Healthy Communities Wyandotte (HCW) initiative, which is spearheaded largely the county public health department.
Public Health Director Joe Connor helped establish the Community Health Council and remains on its board.
“We cannot move the needle (on health outcomes) without folks having access, without folks taking that first step in their journey toward health, and that first step is getting access to care,” Jones said.
El Centro is expected to be another key partner in the enrollment effort. The nonprofit provides services to the Hispanic community in Wyandotte and Johnson counties.
“We just feel it is our responsibility to provide information to our constituents,” about the marketplace, said El Centro Chief Executive Mary Lou Jaramillo, “and so we are going to do what we can with who we can do it with.”
She said her staff was working with the Community Health Council and others trying to figure out how El Centro could best play a role.
“We know that when people come through our front doors we are going to be talking to them about eligibility,” Jaramillo said.
Jones said “care transition” is another key priority for the community health council. He said he wanted providers in the community to coordinate care better, so that patients don’t fall through the cracks.
A key transition in care, he said, is the one that takes place between the hospital and the patient’s community provider.
Jones said he had learned from one area safety net provider that only 40 percent of the patients referred to it by one hospital showed up for the follow-up visit.
“So where are the rest of them going?” he said. “What is happening to them?”
Jones came to the health council after working as a community organizer for Communities Creating Opportunity, a faith-based organization in Kansas City, Mo.
He said, Wyandotte County could perhaps duplicate the Congregational Health Network that is up and running in Memphis, Tenn.
Church members there help shepherd patients through the health care system, though “sometimes it’s just companionship,” Jones said.
Connor, of the health department, said Jones’ priorities were in line with the founding mission of the council.
“I can’t think of a better time to have health care leaders in a community with such need being at the table … for the health care marketplace, the Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid expansion,” he said. “All those different things could really have a positive impact on our community, and we need that group together to try and coordinate some of those efforts.”