This post was written by Libby Cummings, Outreach and Enrollment Specialist at Portland Community Health Center.
On Tuesday, November 19, Portland Community Health Center staff members, volunteers, and other navigators and certified application counselors (CACs) from around the state got up very early to help answer phones for a Health Insurance Marketplace phone bank. Dragging myself out of bed was definitely worth it! We reached 245 people in just three and a half hours!
The phone bank was organized by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in partnership with a local TV news station. The phone number for individuals to call and ask questions as part of the phone bank was broadcast on the local news the night before and on the day of the phone bank. The news programs also featured updates about HealthCare.gov and live interviews with CMS officials. The phone rang off the hook for about two hours in the early morning and then another two hours in the early evening when people were able to call in and ask questions related to health insurance.
People called in with a variety of questions—some wanted to know what kinds of health insurance plans were available, and others were wondering what kind of price range they should expect. There were questions about eligibility for subsidies when people already had access to employer plans, and questions about how to report income and household size. When we couldn’t answer people’s questions in a phone conversation, we referred them to a local resource for help. For those who called from the Portland area, we asked them to make “enrollment appointments” at our health center for further assistance.
Phone banking is an incredibly valuable tool to assist many people in a short period of time. Maine is a fairly rural state, and the phone bank gave us a geographical reach far beyond our home base in Portland. The experience was also a great way for the Portland Community Health Center to solidify our partnerships with other health centers, Navigator organizations, and federal officials. And – it’s a win win for everyone! The phone bank was mutually beneficial for the news station, CMS, and the assisters. The news station wanted to help inform its viewers, so it was happy to provide free advertising for the phone bank. The Health Center, CACs, navigators, and volunteers were grateful for the huge number of people the news station was able to reach. I left my 15-hour workday exhausted, but with a new sense of purpose. Meeting the need for health insurance assistance in my community is so personally meaningful to me, and I loved spending a few hours with other assisters and officials from around New England who felt the same way. CMS and the TV station were so happy with the results that they’ve already scheduled another phone bank before the end of the year. I can’t wait!
Get Covered America has a Get Covered Locator tool that lets you enter your zip code a see a list of assisters in your area.