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Insurance Exchange Outreach In Connecticut Goes Far Afield

Across Connecticut, you can see billboards and television ads, hear radio spots and get pamphlets, all about how to get insurance under the new federal health law starting Oct. 1. But the state also is spending big bucks on less traditional ways to get the word out.

Papilon Ferreiras learns more about his health insurance options at a concert (Photo by Jeff Cohen/WNPR).

So at beaches this summer, outreach workers handed out tubes of sunscreen that said, “Get Covered.” The state is opening up Apple-like storefronts. And across Connecticut, outreach workers are going to fairs and concerts like the America’s Most Wanted rap concert featuring superstars Lil Wayne and T.I.

Papilon Ferreiras went to that concert. He goes by Pap Haze, and he says he works about 35 hours a week at Taco Bell. He’s 21 and says he’d like health insurance.

“Yeah. All day! Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t like health insurance?” he says.

This is where outreach worker Emanuela Cebert sees an opening. She walks up to Ferreiras, tablet computer in hand.

“If I had a way for you to get more affordable health insurance or health insurance in general, would you want to learn more about it?” she asks.

“I’ll look into it. Not today. But I’ll look into it,” replies Ferreiras.

So Cebert tells him she can get his information and contact him in October, when Connecticut’s marketplace starts selling insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Kevin Counihan is the executive director of Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange. He’s got $15 million in federal money to spend on marketing.

“This is the biggest expansion of health insurance in 50 years,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to communicate effectively without investing some. We invested in a lot of other programs in order to promote them.”

Connecticut is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia setting up its own health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. And that means it has access to federal marketing money to reach the state’s uninsured. The outreach is staring now, even though you can’t officially sign up until Oct. 1 and coverage begins in January.

Kevin Counihan, executive director of Access Health CT, talks with volunteers (Photo by Jeff Cohen/WNPR).

It’s not easy to do this outreach. Often people walk right by Cebert and her colleagues. But if the health insurance expansion is going to survive, the outreach is important. It’s about more than the numbers. It’s about demographics.

“We’re gonna be at Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley, we’re going to be at the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival, we’re going to be at John Mayer and Phillip Phillips,” says Counihan, naming upcoming concerts.

“It has to be broad and comprehensive,” he continues. “If we narrowed this, say, to the Hartford Pops Festival, or the Hartford Jazz Festival, we will get a slim demographic which doesn’t adequately reflect our state.”

A few weeks later, Counihan’s operation was at the Milford Oyster Festival, with a shucking competition. The goal was to reach an older, more suburban crowd.

Robert Harrington was there. He says he could get health insurance through his job, but he doesn’t. It’s too expensive, and he makes a calculation.

“A hundred dollars a week. You know. Do I pay health insurance [or] do my kids eat?” he asks.

Now, he doesn’t have much of a choice. He doesn’t like President Obama. And he doesn’t like Obamacare. But he doesn’t want to be penalized for being uninsured.

“You know, I got to do what I got to do. I don’t want to get fined. Cause it’s a tax!” he says.

And then there’s Gary Mott. He’s a tub refinisher with insurance, but he worries about his $10,000 deductible for the policy that covers him and his wife.

“For both of us all together, it’s about $450 (a month), so we’re good right now, as far as premiums go. But that deductible — if one or both of us gets sick, we’re in trouble. That’s how people end up losing their homes and such.”

So Mott could be one of the people who finds an option in Connecticut’s marketplace. Exchange head Counihan says he’s hoping to enroll about 100,000 in the first year alone.

This piece is part of a collaboration that includes NPR, WNPR, and Kaiser Health News.