Enrolling hundreds of thousands of uninsured state residents in health insurance plans is going to take a wide range of efforts, and New Jersey’s hospitals are turning to a group they believe will complete their mission regardless of the obstacles: military veterans.
The New Jersey Hospital Association is hiring 25 veterans to help people complete insurance applications. These certified applications counselors (CACs) are being funded through a $1.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives program.
Ed Sadowski, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said veterans are uniquely suited to reach people.
“We will go wherever we’re needed – it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter how many times, it doesn’t matter how long,” Sadowski said yesterday. “We want to enroll everyone.”
Sadowski, a Winslow Township resident, is a member of the first team of six counselors, who have been meeting with hospital officials and with smaller organizations, such as church groups.
The sign-up effort was announced yesterday at a Veterans Day event held by the hospital association, the foundation and federal officials at the RWJ Hamilton Center for Health & Wellness.
The veterans have started making presentations about the process of applying for insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace, or exchange, which is designed to be a one-stop shop in which individuals and small businesses buy insurance and learn whether they are eligible for federal tax credits to subsidize the purchase.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandates that most Americans have health insurance. The launch of the marketplace has been hindered by a dysfunctional website, healthcare.gov. Federal officials have said that the site will be working better by the end of the month.
There will be four sign-up teams operating in different parts of the state, supplementing the work being done by other organizations, including five federally funded organizations known as “navigators” and CACs that work at federally qualified health centers, hospitals and nonprofit groups.
Michael Mimms, a Marine Corps veteran, said CACs help people fill out paper applications for the insurance marketplace. These applications determine whether residents are eligible for the insurance and for subsidies, but the actual purchase of subsidized insurance must still be done through the healthcare.gov website.
“Right now it’s on paper, but when the cavalry comes at the end of the month, that’s fine,” said Mimms, a 59-year-old Sicklerville resident who served in the military from 1976 to 1980. “But if we had to do it with a rock and chisel, we’d get it done. Veterans find ways to overcome and adapt.”
New Jersey Hospital Association President and CEO Betsy Ryan said helping people get health insurance isn’t a partisan or political issue. She said veterans are “well-suited to serve with this new mission.”
She added that a section of the NJHA website also provides information that can help people find insurance.
New Jersey Health Initiatives Director Robert Atkins likened using veterans as insurance-application counselors to using pilots as astronauts, saying: “They know about service, they know about working in terms.”
Atkins worked with NJHA Senior Vice President Aline Holmes, a Navy veteran, on the project.
Hiring the veterans fits with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s goal of making sure that people are aware of available healthcare services, which helps to create a “culture of health,” according to Marco Navarro, a senior program officer for the foundation.
“What that means is the ability to access resources when we need them,” Navarro said.
James Logan, a 35-year-old Army veteran who served from 1997 to 2004, said he saw the CAC program as an opportunity to start a career in healthcare. “You need to have attention to detail” in the application counselor training program, Logan said.
Dr. Jaime Torres, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the work that the veterans will be doing important work. Referring to the people they will be helping to enroll, he said, “For many of them this is the first time they’re going to be covered.”