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Taking Action to Address Transit Inequality

By Jessica Vu, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
Of the many issues that Seattle-area residents face daily, transportation is one of the most pressing. From mass transit service cuts to inadequate traffic infrastructure, several factors have long affected King County residents’ ability to commute to and from work.
Of these factors, one of the most straining is consistently rising public transit fares. As a response to rising fares, King County officials have implemented a reduced-fare transit program called ORCA LIFT, which provides individuals and families with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level with ORCA cards that charge just $1.50 per ride on King County Metro Transit buses, as well as on many other buses in the area. The $1.50 charge is $1.00 less than regular off-peak fares and $1.25 less than regular peak fares after the most recent fare increase; LIFT clients also have the option of purchasing a reduced-cost monthly pass.
The program, which went into effect on March 1, 2015, is one of the first of its kind in the country, and certainly the most ambitious in scope. ORCA LIFT could potentially reach close to 100,000 transit riders, many of whom rely on public transportation to commute to work from outlying areas as the cost of living in Seattle proper continues to rise. The program stands alongside the minimum wage increase approved by City Council last year as an example of efforts made by King County officials to fight growing economic disparities throughout the region.
To help manage the tremendous logistical undertaking involved in rolling out the ORCA LIFT program, King County Metro has called on over 40 community organizations, including WithinReach, to help administer cards and conduct outreach for the program. WithinReach’s in-person outreach team enrolls clients in ORCA LIFT at seven different sites throughout King County. Call our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588 for more site information. Through our robust and established outreach network, many clients in the past few weeks that came to us seeking food or health resources have also been able to walk away with an ORCA LIFT card in hand.
Because King County Metro—in partnership with King County Public Health—has created a program with relatively generous and client-friendly guidelines, people are often surprised at how painless the enrollment process is. After one of our in-person outreach team members verifies a person’s identity and income, the client is registered in the database and is given an active ORCA LIFT card on the spot, which is valid for two years after being issued without need for additional income verification. After experiencing how strictly overseen many public assistance programs are—and how meager the benefits can be—it has been very refreshing for WithinReach to take part in this progressive campaign to help alleviate inequality, and to be able to show people that efforts are being made to address their needs. We can only hope that these efforts will demonstrate to the rest of the country that reduced-fare transit programs not only work, but are well worth the undertaking.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps Outreach   Bus   Family Health Hotline   Inequality   King County Metro Transit   ORCA LIFT   poverty level   Public Transit   reduced transit fare   rising costs   Seattle   transit rider   Transportation   

All It Takes Is One Accident!

Written by: Annya Pintak, WithinReach Community Partnership Associate
Edited by: Kari Geiger, WithinReach AmeriCorps Program Lead
“I’m healthy, I don’t need health insurance…I never go to the Doctor!” My partner Charlie said this to me during last year’s Open Enrollment for the Affordable Care Act. I am passionate about ensuring folks are aware of the benefits of getting covered, and as a WithinReach employee and a navigator for the Health Benefit Exchange, hearing him say that made my ears ring. After constantly bugging him, my partner finally allowed me to help him enroll. He was approved for tax credits and was quick to purchase the Bronze plan which was cheaper every month, but had an incredibly high deductible. As a navigator, I did my duty of showing him all of his available options ranging from Silver to Gold plans and educated him on all of the health insurance terms. Charlie was still adamant that a Bronze Plan was best for him since he is young and doesn’t foresee himself using his health insurance—the “young invincible” rationale.
Six months after he purchased his health insurance I received a frantic phone call from Charlie letting me know that he was on his way to the emergency room with a broken arm. He was admitted to the ER, his arm was put in a splint, and he was referred to an orthopedic surgeon to further assess the damage. Three days later we found out he needed surgery to ensure that the bones in his fractured arm and wrist would heal correctly, as well as reduce his risk of early onset arthritis.
The biggest lesson we both received from his accident was that health insurance was worth it, even having a plan with a high deductible. The surgery without health insurance coverage would have cost almost $25,000—including anesthesia, the surgeon’s time, x-rays, physical therapy, and other treatment-associated costs. The maximum amount we paid out-of-pocket was $5,250, which was the amount for both the deductible AND the out-of-pocket maximum. $5,250 is still a large amount, but when you compare it with a $25,000 bill, it’s a big difference.
Charlie’s decision to purchase a Bronze Plan allowed him to access the best treatment option for his fractures, as well as provided both of us with the security that we would not go into financial debt while paying his medical bills. It is hard to understand the value of having health insurance until something catastrophic happens, but it is important to think of health insurance as is, a security blanket for your health AND finances. No one purchases car insurance with the intention of getting into a car accident, and the same can be said regarding health insurance. Life happens when you least expect it, and you never know when health insurance will be incredibly beneficial to you. Get yourself and your loved ones covered!

The current deadline for enrollment is February 15th 2015! Create an account or log in to your account on www.wahealthplanfinder.org today to update your application and explore your options. For tips and tricks, check out some articles we wrote over the past year:

Remember: The deadline to enroll is FEBRUARY 15th, 2015, so log on today or call us for help through our Family Health Hotline for assistance at: 1-800-322-2588!

 

Tags: Accident   Family Health Hotline   finances   health insurance   Health Plan   Healthcare   insurance coverage   Open Enrollment   out of pocket      Washington Health Benefit Exchange   Washington state   

Being Prepared Over Feeling Invincible: Why Medical Insurance Is Important While You Are Young

By Chris Garrido-Philp, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, WithinReach AmeriCorps
Since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a lot of attention has been given to the “Young Invincibles,” or people aged 19-26, and the worry that they would not sign up or use their health insurance. The term “Young Invincibes” was coined by the health insurance industry to describe young adults who are relatively healthy but choose not to have insurance due to the belief that, their chances of getting hurt or sick are slim to none. I am one of those “Young Invincibles” and I’m very familiar with the feeling of rarely getting sick. Even so, I am glad to have insurance and the security that if I do have a serious health issue, I’ll be covered.
Not too long ago I walked into my doctor’s office unable to remember the last time I had been in for a check-up. I didn’t even remember my doctor’s name, let alone what he looked like. I wasn’t avoiding him on purpose; I just never felt the need to go. When I did get sick, it was easily fixed with some fever reducing medication and rest. The appointment reminded me of the importance of regular check-ups and preventative measures. He asked me if my childhood asthma was still manageable and if I needed an inhaler to be safe. While I haven’t suffered a serious asthma attack in years, I was glad he addressed this important health issue; as my new job takes me outdoors on occasion. So, I told him I would need an inhaler for emergencies and he prescribed it for me. I feel so much happier knowing that I am healthy and prepared.
While youth is associated with good health, there are multitudes of conditions that can appear without any notice. Cancer, STDs, neurological disorders, ulcers, and others that can happen at any age, not to mention injuries like sprains and broken bones. When you’re just out of high school or college, ready to face adulthood and get a job, that doesn’t automatically prepare you for full independence. It especially doesn’t provide you with the skill sets you need if you are facing a health problem on your own. Living uninsured is always a risk and can cost people more than they expect. It can result in an exorbitant amount of medical expenses that can derail your future plans; such as postponing college, having a family, starting a new job, finding a new home and more.
Although, paying for monthly premiums can be difficult and expensive, having medical insurance helps manage life’s unexpected moments of vulnerability by reducing your medical costs. Having coverage is also a preventive measure that allows you to discover certain health conditions and treat them before they get worse. Youth may be in a period of perceived invincibility, but life is notorious for changing unexpectedly. None of us are truly invincible, but being prepared and having insurance when we need it brings us closer to the goal of living a long, healthy life.
You could be eligible for our state’s Medicaid program (Washington Apple Health) or a subsidy from the government to help you pay for insurance. Call WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline today at 1-800-322-2588 or visit our website at www.parenthelp123.org for more information.

 

Tags: ACA   Afordable Care Act   AmeriCorps   Family Health Hotline   health insurance   Medical Cost   ParentHelp123   Washington Apple Health   Washington state   Young Invincibles   

Not Having Health Insurance Might Impact Your Family’s Finances!

Collaboratively written by: Francesca Murnan, Benjamin Johns, and Benito Sanchez (WithinReach Healthy Connections Team)
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the majority of people in the United States are now required to have health insurance. As a key component of the law, individuals and families will be asked to maintain health insurance at least nine months out of the year. People that choose to go uninsured may face a fee associated with not enrolling in health insurance coverage. Not everyone will be impacted by these changes, nor will they be asked to pay a fee, but it is important to understand where you and your family fit into this complex puzzle. In this blog, we explain the basic structure for how to determine if you are “covered” and what your options may be if you find yourself without health insurance.
Am I covered?
Health insurance is a very broad term and could encompass a variety of health insurance plans. For the purposes of the Affordable Care Act health insurance coverage is determined by a standard called “minimum essential coverage”. If a health plan has this label, it means that it has met the federal standard of a quality health insurance plan. For many people the establishment of minimum essential coverage plans now provides a higher quality and broader scope of service from their health insurance providers than what was available prior to the Affordable Care Act. All minimum essential coverage plans must cover 10 essential health services that are outlined here. For a large number of people, the minimum essential coverage requirement has been met through their existing health plan. If not, the Affordable Care Act has created new health plan options.

Common types of minimum essential coverage:

  • The vast majority ofemployer-sponsoredhealth plans
  • All of theprivate health plans offered through the Washington HealthPlanFinder
  • Apple Health plans offered through the Washington HealthPlanFinder
  • TRICARE plans offered through the US Military

For some people, there will be no changes in their health plans or how they apply for health insurance. But for 41 million uninsured Americans [1], the enactment of the Affordable Care Act has opened new doors to affordable, accessible and quality health insurance coverage. In Washington State, new health insurance plans are now offered through the Washington HealthPlanFinder with government subsidies such as tax credits and cost sharing reductions to make the insurance more affordable for most individuals and families. Other programs, like Washington Apple Health, have expanded to allow more people to enroll in free and low-cost health insurance. These new options present viable opportunities for health insurance that have not existed in the past.

What happens if I did not get health insurance?
If an individual or family was not able to enroll in a health insurance plan in 2014, they could face a fee when they file their 2014 taxes. This fee acts as the enforcement piece of the Affordable Act Care and it is commonly referred to as the individual responsibility requirement. In order to make health insurance affordable and accessible to everyone, the majority of people need to participate. Fees acts as a way to hold each other accountable and keep the overall cost of health insurance low. The amount of the fee will vary by household. The basic fee schedule for not having health insurance in 2014 and 2015 is:

1Health_FeeChart

Are there any other options?
The fee is not designed to punish people that cannot afford health insurance or have experienced hardship. There are a number of reasons why someone may not have been able to enroll in health coverage over the past year. In response to the unique needs of individuals and families, the federal Health Insurance Marketplace offers exemptions that allow people to go insured for short periods of time or to be completely exempt from the individual responsibility requirement and therefore exempt from paying any fees associated with not having health insurance.

To find out more about the exemptions offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace and how to apply for them, call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or contact us through our website: ParentHelp123.org

2015 Open Enrollment for the Washington HealthPlanFinder is happening now to February 15th. Call the Family Health Hotline to speak to a Health Insurance Navigator about your options: 1-800-322-2588.

Citation:
[1] Kaiser Family Foundation. Key facts about the uninsured population. http://kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/

 

Tags: ACA   Affordable Care Act   Family Health Hotline   fee exemption options   Health Coverage   Health Fee   health insurance   Health insurance enrollment   marketplace   ParentHelp123   TRICARE   uninsured   Washington Apple Health   Washington HealthPlanFinder   Washington state   

WA Healthplanfinder Gets a Makeover: 6 things you need to know!

By Emma Lieuwen and Irina Verevkina
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
Open enrollment began November 15, 2014 and will continue until February 15, 2015. If you have not yet enrolled for health coverage, now is the time! Even if you signed up last year, your options may have changed, so be sure to review your plan.
If you have any questions about your coverage, need help navigating Washington Healthplanfinder’s website, or would like help with your application, please call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
If you would rather talk to someone in person, call the Family Health Hotline to find out where our team will be in the community.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Recently, Washington Healthplanfinder’s website got a new look! When you go to wahealthplanfinder.org the homepage looks a little different. The new look was designed to make finding information about enrolling in free or low-cost health coverage easier. Here are six changes that we think are important:
Change #1: New look for the Homepage
The sign in button is now located in the upper right corner. Additionally, there is now a designated section on the homepage to directly access Apple Health Renewals and Enrollment in the middle of the page.
Homepage
Forgot your username or password? Simply click the green “Sign in” button and you will be able to retrieve it, or call the Healthplanfinder Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633.
Sign_In_Button
Change #2: New Application Questions
“Is any member on this application a child 26 or older seeking adult disabled dependent coverage?”
Answer “yes” to this question if one of your dependents is an adult child with a disability; meaning, they cannot work due to their disability and are financially dependent on you. How this question is answered won’t affect your eligibility for Apple Health.
“Is any household member on this application currently enrolled in Medicare?”
If someone is covered by Medicare, they are likely ineligible for Qualified Health Plans and Apple Health.
Change #3: Eligibility Status Screen
After submitting your application, you will be taken to the Eligibility Status screen. This page provides the following information for each member of your household:

  • Eligibility status (Approved, Ineligible, Conditional, etc)
  • The program name (for example, Washington Apple Health)
  • Coverage dates
  • Next steps

Eligibility_Status

Change #4: Pending Coverage and Document Upload
If you, or someone on your application, has a “pending coverage” eligibility status, you may be required to submit documents for additional verification. You can click the “upload documents” button to upload files. If you are prompted to submit documents, do so as soon as possible to avoid losing coverage.

Pending_Coverage

Change #5: Reporting Changes
If you need to report a change on your application, you can now see how the change affects your eligibility. This is an improvement from how change reporting used to go, which required you to select and purchase a plan if you tried to make a change.
Reporting_Change
Change #6: Plan-palooza
This year, there will be more Qualified Health Plans to choose from. Be sure to shop around, consider your needs, and explore your options to make sure you’re getting the best plan for your needs and budget.
More questions? Call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 today!

 

Tags: Apple Health Renewals   Family Health Hotline   Free-Low Cost Health Coverage   health insurance   Open Enrollment   Washington HealthPlanFinder   Washington state   

Link Between Breastfeeding and Strong Child Development

Co-Written by WithinReach Staff:
Kirsten Leng and Alex Sosa (Breasting Promotion Program) – Kelly Smith and Keri Foster (Help Me Grow Program)
Health organizations around the world, including the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend babies receive only breast milk for at least the first six months of life. Many of us know about the various health benefits of breastfeeding, including reduced risk of asthma, fewer ear infections, less incidence of diarrhea, and reduced risk of some cancers for moms. Did you also know that there is a well documented link between breastfeeding and strong child development? In fact, some research suggests that breastfeeding benefits are 90% developmental[1]!
• Skin-to-skin contact is important for children’s brain development[2].
• Breastfeeding improves children’s cognitive development[3].
• Maternal responsiveness and attachment security are increased by breastfeeding[4].
• Breastfed children are less likely to suffer from abuse or neglect[5].
• Children who are breastfed are more accepting of new foods[6].
Why do we see these benefits? When a mother breastfeeds, it is not just about passing nutrition through the breast milk. Breastfeeding is also about comfort and nurturing; mother and baby studying and memorizing each other’s faces; speaking and singing to your baby; and building trust and non-verbal communication.
The first year of life is a time of early social, emotional, and verbal learning. Babies benefit from the intimate bonding and affection, nutrition, and early communication that happen between mom and baby. Breastfeeding provides a focused time to build this development.
At WithinReach, we focus on five topic areas of health including breastfeeding, child development, health care, food access, and immunizations. Just as breastfeeding success supports optimal child development, it also is the most nutritious, first (free) food, and a baby’s first immunization. Likewise, access to healthy foods and health insurance supports a child to have his/her best start. At WithinReach, we believe when families are supported in all of these five areas, they have the resources they need to be healthy.
To learn more, call our WithinReach Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit www.ParentHelp123.org

 

Tags: Bonding   brain development   Breast milk   Breastfeeding   Child Development   Family Health Hotline   Healthy   Nutrition   ParentHelp123   

Volunteering in the Call Center: Summer Meals

By Board Member Molly Firth, with Michael Firth

On a recent sunny weekend, I convinced my husband Mike, to join me for a couple hours of volunteering in the WithinReach Family Health Hotline Call Center. He usually doesn’t have weekends off, so it was asking a lot, and I was glad he was interested. I was eager to spend some time helping WithinReach connect families with the resources they need to be healthy – in this case, the Summer Meals program.

First, let me share that neither of us have any experience in a call center. I work in public policy and Mike flies planes – so, this was pretty far outside of our comfort zones. Glory, a WithinReach AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, prepared us with a script; along with information about WithinReach and the Summer Meals program. She then showed us how to use the Resource Finder on Parenthelp123.org to access local information for families. We were also handed a form to log the results of our contacts. Once our training was complete we put our headsets on and started dialing. What could go wrong?! Fortunately, nothing!

Between the two of us, we called over 80 households to inform and assist them in finding a Summer Meals site in their neighborhood. Nobody hung up on me (which I was grateful for) and most people were happy to hear more about a program providing free meals to their children during the summer. One woman I spoke with already knew about the Summer Meals program and did not need any additional information, but was very appreciative about the offer for assistance. She almost seemed surprised that WithinReach’s Family Health Hotline would call her to tell her about a resource in her community!

A majority of my calls went to voice-mail which made me a bit jealous of the volunteers sitting near me, including Mike, who seemed to be helping more families. Overhearing their sides of the conversations was distracting at times – and I thought, how does the call center staff remain focused with all the noise surrounding them.

Mike’s observations: 50% of my calls resulted in connecting with people enjoying a sunny weekend—some were out with their kids at a park or running errands, and one lady was even at a wedding! Most people were grateful for the call but did not need Summer Meals, but a handful wanted more information and I helped them find a place in their neighborhood where they could take their kids for lunch, a snack, or breakfast. Every one of those individuals said thank you in a really heartfelt way that many of us probably don’t hear often.

Despite serving on the Board for the past three years, I have not had the time to directly interface with the families we support. It was a good way to share in the experience of the call center staff and provide direct assistance to families in need. We walked out the door feeling good about the two hours we spent connecting families with great resources and look forward to more opportunities to do so!

Tags: Board Member   Family Health Hotline   ParentHelp123   summer meals   volunteering   

Balancing the Budget & Tough Choices Families Make Everyday

Olympia managed to avert a budget crisis, much to the relief of Washington citizens and many lawmakers. It took months of work, negotiations and two special sessions to come up with a final budget that our legislators could agree to. During the process, furlough notices were sent to workers whose employment depended on state funding.  Single parents that relied on childcare subsidies scrambled to make arrangements under already difficult circumstances.  Pregnant women, caregivers and parents wondered if they might get the aid that goes a long way in providing much needed nutrition for their families.  During these last two weeks of budget negotiations the word “budget” seemed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  At WithinReach we worried what the looming government shutdown could mean for the most vulnerable families we work with.

We were relieved when we learned a budget passed and a government shutdown avoided. Unfortunately, these feelings of accomplishment and relief did not come to all.  There are thousands of families in Washington that are not able to balance their household budgets and provide their families with basic needs.  At the WithinReach Family Health Hotline, we talk to these families every day.  These families make concessions and choices about what to fund and what to forgo on a daily basis. These are hard choices.  Pay the rent or feed the family?  They choose to find a way, and sometimes they ask for help.

The families we talk to want to know that they are doing everything in their power to keep their children on track.   They want to provide enough food for their children so that they have the necessary nutrition to focus and do well in school. They want their children to receive health insurance so that they will not have to forgo medical care or be strapped with huge hospital bills. They want for their children what we believe all children deserve—access to healthy food and quality health care.  The recent budget passing helped to remind us of the important role these government benefit programs serve in the lives of families throughout Washington. They truly help to lessen the financial struggles of families and help parents breathe easier knowing their children have what they need to be healthy. We are happy to answer those phone calls, and help to alleviate the tough choices that many of those families are forced to make every day.

Tags: benefit programs   budget   Family Health Hotline   Washington   Washington Legislature   

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