Okay, mark your calendars!
If you missed the open enrollment for Obamacare which ended March 31, 2014, then you have from November 15th to February 15th to sign up for health insurance coverage for 2015.
Get Covered America is a campaign that is dedicated to helping people learn about their affordable health insurance options. Heather Walden serves as a volunteer for this organization. Heather and I met several years ago at a former workplace. We’ve recently reconnected and I’m excited to welcome her as a community spotlight for Women Encouraged.
Tracy: How did you become involved with Get Covered America?
Heather: I became involved with Get Covered America after attending a free information event at Georgia Piedmont Technical College in Clarkston, Georgia. Initially, I was sent over by an advisor from neighboring Georgia Perimeter College. I had to look into the agenda for the event, report back and give a brief recap to the school’s History and Politics Club. Congressman Hank Johnson was in attendance as well as the State Director for Get Covered America, Dante McKay and several other organizations. A young lady named Whitney engaged me and my friend at her booth. Upon leaving, I was encouraged to sign up as a volunteer. A year later, I am still active with the organization as we prepare for the second Open Enrollment.
As a volunteer, what are your primary responsibilities?
Heather: As a volunteer, my primary responsibilities include an interest in learning about the new healthcare law, committing time to training and certification events (to stay up on the latest changes), and a willingness to do the grassroots work of informing consumers about their new healthcare options under the Affordable Care Act.
Are there different levels of volunteers? If so, please explain.
Heather: Yes, there are different levels of volunteers. They descend in the following order according to levels of organization: Organizers (there are currently 12 for the entire state of Georgia), Deputy Organizers, Senior Fellows, Fellows, and volunteers. I am a Fellow with the organization, having completed my training during this past summer. Fellows use volunteers to assists organizers with outreach, tabling, clip-boarding, training new volunteers, establishing contacts, and hosting presentations and enrollment events. Organizers oversee fellows and volunteers and provide a network of resources and support. The biggest difference between levels of volunteers is time commitment. Volunteers may commit as little or as much time to the organization as their schedule allows.
Should individuals possess certain skills/traits to become a volunteer?
Heather: At Get Covered America, volunteers are encouraged to come as they are. The organization does not require volunteers to possess any certain skills before joining, but I would say that those who are thinking about joining this wonderful organization should have a desire to help and serve the general public. Other traits include being motivated and having a positive attitude.
What type of information is covered during the training?
Heather: Training is important for volunteers. Everyone is exposed to the basics of the Affordable Care Act, but volunteers also have the opportunity to become certified in areas of data, partnership engagement, commit card collection, and best outreach practices. So, for those who are tech savvy and enjoy volunteering behind the scenes, data might be a good area for you. Likewise, for those who enjoy one-on-one interactions with consumers and small business owners, partnership and community engagement would be a good area for you.
How has the community responded to the outreach efforts?
Heather: The response to outreach efforts with Get Covered America has been incredible. Individuals are very appreciative of the work the organization is doing to help folks understand their healthcare options under the new healthcare law. Many who are in attendance at our events are covered or have gone through the process of signing up for health insurance through healthcare.gov. They are anxious to share their stories with us.
Two stories stand out for me. The first involves a peer of mine who recently informed me that, while in school and working to establish his citizenship, he went to healthcare.gov and enrolled in a healthcare plan. The second involves a small business owner in Gwinnett County. While entertaining my request for a partnership opportunity, he took it upon himself to sit me down and share with me his family’s story regarding health insurance. He explained to me in a very touching recollection. After three years paying out- of-pocket for health insurance for his family, with co-pays averaging $200 to $300 a visit, he was finally able to get health insurance for his entire family. Needless to say, I was moved by his story. Before I could finish my inquiry, he told me that whatever I wanted to do in terms of outreach with Get Covered America, he was open and willing to have us.
Do you feel you have personally benefited from your involvement with Get Covered America?
Heather: To this day, I know that I have greatly benefited from my involvement with Get Covered America. I have a better understanding of the health insurance marketplace and the “insurance lingo” for terms like premiums, co-pays, deductibles, HMOs, etc. Through the organization, I have developed better communication skills, worked on becoming a community organizer, and built up a professional network that includes healthcare providers, small business owners, and other non-profit organizations. I have also had the pleasure of learning a little more about the City of Atlanta. One of my greatest rewards with the organization was participating in the Martin Luther King Day parade earlier this year.
Can those interested still enroll as a volunteer?
Heather: Yes! It is never too late to get involved with Get Covered America. Outreach efforts are happening year round, and our coverage area is not just Metro Atlanta but all of Georgia. So we need all the help we can get. As the saying goes: Many hands make for light work!
What does the community need to know most about this upcoming open enrollment?
Heather: The three most important things that the community needs to know about the second open enrollment is financial help is still available to those who qualify for health insurance on the Marketplace. Two, the enrollment period is only three months instead of six months (from November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015). So, in order to avoid a gap in coverage come January 1st, consumers need to enroll in a health insurance plan by December 15, 2014. Three, next year, consumers who met the necessary requirements but did not enroll in a health insurance plan may be susceptible to a fine (2% of yearly household income or $325 per person for the year ($162.50 per child under 18). Also, in-person assistance is still available to those who need assistance signing up for health insurance. Simply go to the organization’s website, getcoveredamerica.org, and use the Locator application to find assistance near you.
How can organizations become involved in this outreach effort?
Health: Organizations can get involved in Get Covered America by going to the website, getcoveredamerica.org, visiting the events page and signing up for an event. Organizations can also send volunteers to do phone banks, registration, and clip boarding, etc. Another way organizations can help is by specializing in what they do. For example, an organization like Monkey Bizness might be able to provide a jumpy house for an event held at a church, school, or daycare. A local restaurant might be able to provide lunch or sample items from their menu to feed guests and vendors. If an organization wishes to become involved with Get Covered America, the opportunities are endless.
Tracy: Heather, you have provided a wealth of information for readers. Thank you for taking time to share your knowledge and experience as a volunteer. I’m certain the community will be encouraged to join and/or participate in the campaign of Get Covered America. For additional information, visit getcoveredamerica.org.