Taking a deeper dive: Health care Navigators seek the uninsured in Season 3

The first two years of helping uninsured people enroll in affordable health insurance will be hard to beat. In the first year alone, the number of uninsured adults (under age 65) dropped by 38 percent in King County. That’s four percent more than the rest of the state — and more than in all but one of the other 49 states.

Public Health's enrollment team at Southcenter Mall
Public Health’s enrollment team at Southcenter Mall during Season 2

Now, Public Health—Seattle & King County will refine its strategies to reach more of the uninsured, under a renewed contract as a Lead Navigator Organization through Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

Central to King County’s approach has been a managing a network of dozens of private organizations and hundreds of Navigators. These are licensed individuals and organizations who offer free help for people who want to enroll online through Healthplanfinder.

This year, the expanded county network has new enrollment partners — including the Somali Health Board, Gay City Health Project, and North Seattle Family Center — to help reach populations that have been more challenging to enroll.

Reaching the remaining uninsured in 2015

Despite the county’s successful track record, more outreach and new strategies are needed. Thousands of people remain without insurance.

“We know disparities still exist in King County. We know that for people who are self-employed or in a small business, sometimes the income is cyclical. They might have chosen to pay the tax penalty instead of enrolling, if they thought the insurance was unaffordable,” said Daphne Pie, Public Health’s manager for the countywide enrollment network.

“We can help them find a cheaper plan, so they can have health coverage and avoid the penalty.”

For anyone who doesn’t have insurance in 2015, the income tax penalty has more than doubled from 2014, and next year, those without insurance will pay $695 per person or up to 2.5% of yearly household income.

Additional outreach to the remaining uninsured will include:

  • People who are sole proprietors, such as taxi drivers
  • Hotel and restaurant workers in the city of Seattle whose coverage status may have changed as a result of the minimum wage increases
  • Minority-owned businesses and their employees
  • Targeted zip codes where our estimates show higher percentages of uninsured residents

The third year of Open Enrollment runs from Nov. 1, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016. Watch for Navigators in locations across the county, with larger enrollment events at shopping malls.

This year, Navigators in King County are also helping people sign up for Metro transit’s reduced fare program, called ORCA Lift.

Getting affordable coverage

New free and low-cost insurance options became available in 2013, through Healthplanfinder.

Those who remain without insurance face limits on their access to timely, preventive medical and behavioral health care. Having insurance also protects individuals against catastrophic medical debts, and the overall economy benefits when more people are healthy and financially secure.

Anyone looking for help understanding the enrollment process or comparing options can find a listing of outreach events at the Coverage is Here website or call King County’s assistance hotline (1-800-756-5437). Additional events to be added include major shopping malls and “Enroll on a Metro Bus” events.

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.

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