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In Round Two Of Obamacare, Recruiting Washington's Uninsured Gets A Little Tougher

Gabriel Spitzer
Washington's online marketplace for health insurance re-opens November 15.

If you want to buy or change your health plan, state insurance marketplaces re-open Saturday for the first time since March. In the first round of enrollment, which ended in March, Washington cut its uninsured rate by more than a third. But recruiting the uninsured could be tougher this time around.

Health workers say they have collected much of the low-hanging fruit. For example, about 140,000 people bought health plans during the first open enrollment period, but three times as many got free coverage from Medicaid.

Kayla Scrivner of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said as recruiters focus more on private coverage, the sales job gets a little tougher.

“Completely free health insurance for folks that  haven’t had health insurance in a long time is a pretty easy sell. When you have people that make more money, they typically qualify for tax credits, and that’s a little bit tougher sell than just completely free health insurance,” Scrivner said.

She said in the last round of enrollment about 90 percent of the people enrolled by Pierce County assisters got Medicaid, as recruiters targeted low-income residents at places like social service agencies. This time, she said they will increase their presence at malls and universities.

Targeting Rural Areas

In places like central Washington, recruiters plan to head into farther-flung areas. Rhonda Hauff with Yakima Neighborhood Health Services helps train outreach workers serving dozens of rural communities in Yakima and Kittitas counties.  

“We’re trying to cover about 6,600 square miles,” she said.

She said they recruit people in warehouses and agricultural areas, and she sends assisters to small church or family gatherings.

That takes more work than recruiting in more densely populated areas. But Hauff said they do have one resource they did not have in the last go-around: the experiences of the newly insured. Those stories a key, she said, in relatively conservative regions where people may distrust Obamacare.

“Over time, we’ve had people come in who learned about the coverage that their neighbor got, or their friend got. And so word of mouth as also been a very important asset of ours,” she said.

About 10 percent of Washingtonians still don’t have health insurance. The state exchange hopes to sign up 85,000 new people for private plans before the enrollment period ends Feb. 15. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.