2015 Legislative Session Summary
Last Friday the legislature finally adjourned the 2015 legislative session. At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities and we have been working hard in Olympia throughout the session to break down barriers that prevent Washington families from getting the support they need to be healthy. Even though it was a very long legislative session (the longest in Washington State history), we ultimately emerged with some incredible successes for Washington families!
Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions. The full range of screenings is currently required to be covered for kids on private insurance, but kids on Washington Apple Health did not have this guarantee. Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to this issue by requiring full coverage of these screening for kids on Apple Health. We are happy to share that the bill passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016.
Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage. We are happy to share that both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.
Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines. We are happy to share that the funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health – Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).
Thank you to everyone who used your voice to support these critical issues! We could not have done it without you.
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Big Changes Lead to Big Rewards
At WithinReach, we are on the forefront of health care reform and are excited about the future of health insurance enrollment in Washington State. We believe that with investments in people and technology and respectful engagement with folks, health insurance for all can be a reality.
The launch of the Washington HealthPlanFinder website represents big changes for our state, and for how all of us access coverage. It has also meant changes here at WithinReach. We have grown our team and increased our capacity to reach the thousands of Washingtonians who are newly eligible for health insurance. We welcomed 14 new people to WithinReach in the last two months and our total staff team count is over 50. This is more than double the size of our team from two years ago. Our office is literally busting at the seams as we shift space to accommodate new staff and move teams together. We have broadened our work into additional communities and expanded our skills—all while maintaining the personal and friendly culture that make this a great place to work!
Of course with all this change and growth, come some growing pains. We experienced some of those growing pains first hand, with the technical glitches of the HealthPlanFinder website earlier this week. Health exchange websites around the country experienced many of the same glitches and delays due to the large numbers of people trying to apply online at the same time. Despite the technical issues, our team of In-Person Assisters was out in the community talking to Washingtonians at 14 sites in King and Snohomish counties. Our team talked to over 1,000 people about health insurance at these sites, and have also received close to 100 inquires for health and food assistance through ParentHelp123 this week alone.
Because of the challenges with the Washington HealthPlanFinder tool, we focused our outreach on education about what to expect next and creating appointments with individuals to sign them up for health insurance within the next few weeks. Despite some of the technology glitches, we have already seen the positive impact of the Affordable Care Act on our families. Last evening one of our outreach and enrollment specialists, Benito, enrolled a single mother and her daughter in health insurance plans through HealthPlanFinder. The mother called in with the intent of getting her daughter covered. She was skeptical about finding affordable health insurance for herself, and anxious about what ‘Obamacare’ meant for her family. Benito explained that there were likely affordable options for her as well as her daughter, and encouraged her to explore those options. After entering her application in HealthPlanFinder Benito learned that her daughter was eligible for Free Apple Health for Kids effective October 1, 2013 and that she was eligible for a tax subsidy for herself for coverage effective January 1, 2014. She was excited that her daughter was covered, but was still apprehensive about what kind of coverage she might be “forced to purchase”. Benito found a SILVER level plan that was free after a $559 tax credit.
Stories like this one make our day, and fuel our desire to do more. This mother came to us looking for health insurance for her daughter and she finished the call with free health insurance for both herself and her daughter. We are ready for action and encouraged by the numbers of people we have already been able to help in the first week of open enrollment. We will continue to provide in-person outreach, schedule appointments, take calls and provide the education and outreach that is so crucial to getting families successfully enrolled in affordable health care.
I Love September
This powerhouse crew is changing the way people connect to benefits. As I’ve talked with our partners, elected officials, Exchange staff and board, I’m so proud to say that we have a model that builds on 25 years of connecting families with resources. We know the importance of meeting people where they are at‐‐whether that’s the food bank line, over the phone or online. We know our greatest impact will be in developing a trusting relationship with families so that we can connect them with the right resource and suggest other resources they might need. We know that when parents have access to quality health care, it improves the health of their kids. As we get close to launch, it’s also important for us to keep our eyes on the prize‐‐ Health Insurance for All! This isn’t going to be an easy process. It’s going to be frustrating and tiring. We will now be able to respond to clients who “sheepishly”ask after we’ve signed their kids up for Apple Health for Kids if there is anything for them, with a resounding YES! This is the pay off.
Over the last few weeks I’ve started to think about what is next. What happens after we’ve signed up folks? Having insurance doesn’t mean you’ll be healthier. Having healthy behaviors makes you healthier. This is where I see our work with breastfeeding, immunization and developmental screening massively growing our impact on family health. This is going to be fun, challenging and rewarding work. But first things first‐‐let’s go get those million Washingtonians that aren’t insured, insured.
Washington Apple Health: A Health Insurance Answer for Many Parents
It is hard to believe that it has only been 45 days since the Washington State Legislature adjourned, and August means it is time to start framing out our public policy agenda. I have been on the coalition circuit this week meeting with partners about the big issues facing WithinReach and the health and human services sector–from health care reform, funding food stamps and a number of opportunities for more integrated approaches to immunizations, child development and breastfeeding. For a short session–it could be pretty exciting.
Each of these meetings had a common theme not only for WithinReach but for our partners and our communities. This is the “new normal.” I believe that we will continue to see a blurring of lines between the roles of government, nonprofits and the private sector. I know at times this seems scary, but I see some amazing possibilities forming. For instance: The Fresh Bucks program is a collaboration between the Chase Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Washington State Farmers Market Association and City of Seattle (and the brain child of City Councilman Richard Conlin). It is a great example of shifting the paradigm and creating triple-win opportunities. Families receiving food stamps and using their EBT card receive extra buying power by matching dollars up to the first $10 spent on each visit to a Farmer’s Market. I love this because our family farmers benefit, there are more healthy food choices for families and in turn, kids eat more fresh fruits and veggies. The fact that a private foundation and a bank are helping to insure this happens–even better!
I am also looking forward to visiting with Congressmen Smith and Congressman Larsen during their August recess– both are long time supporters of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as EBT or food stamps) and believers in the Affordable Care Act. They will have the opportunity to see the WithinReach Healthy Connections model in action. Starting on October 1 our team will help to assist families navigate the new benefits exchange and provide food resource referrals. We believe strongly in the connection between health and nutrition. We are delighted to not only sign up kids for health insurance through Apple Health for Kids – as we have done for 12 years — but now also their parents. We are convinced kids will get better care when their parents have insurance too. Our WithinReach Healthy Connections team wouldn’t be possible without private and public support of the Verdant Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, United Way of King County, United Way of Snohomish County, King County Public Health, Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement and Department of Health and Human Services.
I’m telling you, this “new normal” could be an amazing way to have great impact on the community.
This AmeriCorps Life
Who are we? We are part of the 80,000 AmeriCorps across the country that serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups. Our service is at WithinReach as Community Outreach Specialists.
A typical day in the life of our AmeriCorps team:
8-9am: the AmeriCorps stumbles into the office, impeccably dressed in their gray vest. In a mad rush to the kitchen, the AmeriCorps manages to snag the last of the first morning coffee—success!
9am: the AmeriCorps settles in at their desk to check their email and listen to messages left by clients either confused by the next steps in applying for benefits, or beyond thankful for the help provided by our helpful AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps then makes sure to stock up their outreach kit for the journey that awaits them that day.
10am: The AmeriCorps heads out to one of our partners in Kirkland, Hopelink, via I-5 traffic, crossing the 520 toll bridge and taking in a spectacular view of Lake Washington on the way, complete with a hazy view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The British monotone of their talking GPS maps soothes them on their way.
10:30-12:30: The AmeriCorps arrives at their site, promptly taking charge of the situation. They approach as many people as possible within the food banks to help them get signed up for Basic Food (food stamps) or to give them additional community resources like utility assistance.
12:30: The AmeriCorps, having distributed a good portion of their resources, and successfully helped several families apply for Basic Food, makes the satisfied trip back to the office.
1pm: The now exhausted AmeriCorps takes their lunch break, munching on canned tuna or last night’s leftovers whilst in the company of other friendly WithinReach staff.
1:30-3pm: The AmeriCorps inputs data from that day’s outreach, completes follow-up calls to clients, perhaps checks out a new recipe on Pinterest, has another cup of coffee to even out the day. A good portion of this time might be spent waiting on a phone call to advocate for clients.
3-4pm: The AmeriCorps attends the weekly meeting for the outreach team. Nestled cozily together in a small conference room, the AmeriCorps listens and participates in a discussion of upcoming events and ongoing projects, concerns, etc.
4-5pm: Having completed yet another day of rewarding work, the AmeriCorps collects their personal items and head out to their car, heading home to rest, relax, and enjoy the delights of Seattle.
Stay Tuned …(For more information about our awesome AmeriCorps team and our daily work)