Members of the Georgia Association for Primary Health Care are meeting in Augusta this week and had been scheduled to hear Wednesday from Dr. Mary Wakefield, the administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They found out at the last minute, however, that “the government shutdown locked her out,” said Janice Sherman, the CEO of Medical Associates Plus at Belle Terrace.
The convention’s theme was The Affordable Care Act: Are We Ready?, and Steven Miracle, the president of the association, had a ready answer.
“Yes we are,” he said. “That’s the only answer we have, right? Yes we are.”
The computer glitches and heavy traffic that appeared Tuesday to stall the federal Web site that more than 30 states will use to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplaces did not deter people from showing up to get information and centers from handing out printed information that patients could use to help get themselves prepared, said Cathy S. Bowden, the information management coordinator for the association. The association’s members have 19 people who have completed the federal and state requirements, she said, and all 28 centers in Georgia received grant funding to provide assistance.
“They’re educating those patients and giving them the tools they need so that they can choose a quality health plan and they can be insured,” Bowden said.
There could be 50 more navigators provided by the two grant recipients for Georgia, and some insurance brokers have taken it upon themselves to get the training, said Miracle, who also is CEO of Georgia Mountains Health in Blue Ridge. Glitches and problems with enrolling probably will still pop up as it goes on, he said.
“There will continue to be those kinds of hiccups, which happens when you start something new, especially as massive as this is,” Miracle said. “But those bugs will get worked out and people will get signed up, and come January there will be folks who have access to insurance.”
The centers have always worked in the past to help their patients find coverage, said Marc Wetherhorn, the senior director for advocacy and civic engagement at the National Association of Community Health Centers, who returned to his native Augusta for the convention.
“This is really just a continuation of what we’ve done and I think what a lot of safety-net providers have done,” he said. “One of the things we know is certainly the people we serve are going to want somebody they trust to help them go through this process.”
That assisting in enrollment and in the community to educate is going to make the difference, Wetherhorn said.
“I think, at the end of the day, after all of the thrashing about is over, that this really is about what happens on the ground,” he said. “This law is going to be successful because it is successful on the ground. It’s not going to be successful because people in Atlanta or people in Washington make it successful.”
Although the stalemate in Washington is over whether to continue funding health reform, the centers are considered essential and will continue to receive their funding, Miracle said.
“It’s moving forward,” he said.