California hospital aggressive approach to Obamacare, enlists 'uninsured' in ER

California hospital aggressive approach to Obamacare, enlists 'uninsured' in ER

San Jose : CA : USA | Jan 18, 2014 at 6:15 AM PST
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California Covered is one of the most successful health insurance exchanges in country and it is no accident the state exchange has enrolled the largest number of "uninsured" in the country. 2.2 million have enrolled for private health plans across the country as of Dec. 31, 2013.

Covered California is a commitment by the leadership in California, Governor Jerry Brown, who has been committed to the success of the Affordable Care Act since its inception.

Of those 2.2 million, nearly 500 thousand residents of California are covered. Which means that the state has enrolled 22 percent of all the new enrollees, according to the California Healthline.

It is no accident that California is highly successful in a state that has its own health care exchange and has opted into the "Medicaid expansion." Hundreds of thousands have qualified for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. The options for Californians are plentiful.

There is this example at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. nothing like a captive audience. Araceli Martinez works in the building at the Hospital and runs the Health Benefits Resource Center just down the hall from the ER at the hospital. The Center has beefed up staffing and hours in response to the Affordable Care Act, says a report from NPR on enrolling "insured" patients in emergency rooms.

Seems the department pays for itself because 5,000 "uninsured" people come into O'Connor Hospital's emergency department each year. It is the job Martinez and others that work at the Center to help the "uninsured" find health care coverage.

The state of California has the highest number of "uninsured" in the country, with 7,106,100 residents according to the Kaiser Foundation, without coverage before Obamacare went into full swing and one of the highest percentages of "uninsured" at 19 percent of the population.

NPR tells the story of a patient at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. who was admitted there into the emergency room recently with what she thought was bronchitis. A doctor prescribed the patient, Angela Felan, 31, an inhaler. The inhaler cost her $56.

Felan works part time in retail and has not been able to afford coverage because she thought she couldn't afford it. "Unfortunately even not having insurance is just as expensive," Felan says.

Felan was aware of the state's insurance exchange, Covered California, but worries about the price. About her visit, she also worries. "As far as today goes, I'm expecting another large bill from the hospital. Previously, when I would come in uninsured, I would get like a $200 or $300 bill for just one visit."

Martinez says uninsured patients had few options before 2014 to pay off hefty hospital bills or enroll in health coverage. Martinez estimates that 70 percent of the "uninsured" patients she sees can now get coverage, if they follow up and apply.

Hospitals have extra motivation to sign up patients for insurance. What better place than an emergency room, the one safe haven for "uninsured" patients. "I think the emergency department waiting room is one of those places where you have low-hanging fruit," says Renee Hsia, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "They're not the sickest of the sick, because at least someone, the triage nurse, has deemed them stable enough to wait. And if they're waiting, they might as well be filling out some application form, or at least learning about the process."

O'Connor Hospital CEO Jim Dover sees this program at his hospital as a worthy goal.

Dover says he wants to get patients insured so they don't have to come to the ER for common problems. "Let me use this metaphor: A person is coming down the river, and they're drowning, and you jump in and pull them out. And then they come down again, and you pull them out. Next. Two. Three. Four. Five. At some point, you have to go up the river and take care of the spot where they're all falling in."

Angela Felan emerges from seeing the doctor at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif., she is clutching a stack of papers, says NPR. At the end of her visit, she says, "someone said they would give me a financial packet, and I could call the number on that and someone would go over financial options with me."

Signing up patients in emergency rooms will likely occur all across America.


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California taking aggressive approach enlisting Obamacare enrollees on at a time
Some 5,000 uninsured people come into O'Connor Hospital's emergency department each year, and now it is Araceli Martinez's job to help them find coverage. She runs the Health Benefits Resource Center just down the hall from the ER. The center has beefed up staffing and hours in response to the Affordable Care Act.
MrGrassroots is based in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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