PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Affordable Health Care Act is here. Some are finding it complicated to navigate, but it doesn't have to be.
Community Health Programs Chief Executive Officer Bryan Ayars says the nonprofit health agency is upping its efforts to help people and get enrolled in health insurance programs.
Massachusetts, which created the successful template for the federal health insurance law, is lagging behind other states in enrollment in part because of glitches with its health exchange website. And some residents may not realize they are now eligible.
Ayars said there are some 10,000 individuals in the county who are now eligible for insurance under the federal law, and he wants to find them and get them signed up.
"Our sense is that there are a lot of people frozen in place in making a decision," Ayars said on Tuesday. "We want to make sure as many people in Berkshire County who are qualified for health insurance gets it."
The state's overall rate of uninsured is 2 percent but 9 percent of CHP's patients, who come from throughout the county, have no insurance.
The group has launched BerkshireAffordableCare.org and will be hitting the radio airwaves, Facebook, posting billboards and getting into communities to find those who either don't have health insurance or are enrolled in plans that are too expensive.
"We've had enrollment specialists for years but in the last six months to a year, we've ramped up those activities," Ayars said. "We're looking to enroll whoever is interested."
CHP isn't the only organization helping enrollment. Ecu-Health Care in North County and Berkshire Health Systems' Advocacy for Access program have both ramped up enrollment activities. All three entities were designated access providers last fall and provided with federal funding to support enrollment activities.
But it isn't a competition, Ayars said. The benefit for the organizations is when people have insurance, they see doctors more often.
Ayars said Berkshire County ranks near the bottom in the state for health outcomes. He believes the Affordable Health Care Act has helped break the barrier of insurance coverage for many who otherwise wouldn't have seen a doctor.
"It's important to us that patients have insurance," he said. "The Berkshires are ranked 11th out of 14 in health outcomes so there is a lot of work to be done."
With the new federal law, individuals making up to $45,900 annually can receive government assistance for their plans and a family of five making up to $110,000 annually. But many people don't know that they qualify, Ayars said, and many think that since they already have insurance, they wouldn't get any additional help.
"There are a lot of people who don't know if they qualify for insurance," he said.
In the Berkshires, 90 percent of businesses are exempt from having to pay into insurance programs because of their size, which leaves many individuals paying a lot for insurance.
"Many people may be surprised that they are eligible for more affordable health care insurance. Particularly, this is a wonderful option for employees of small business who have been challenged with the high cost of health insurance," Ayars said. "In addition, there are many families who rely on income from multiple jobs that may not provide insurance. This offers a critical safety net for these families."
Through BerkshireAffordableCare.org, residents can set up a meeting with one of five coordinators the organization has on staff. Ayars said CHP has been setting up more than 30 meetings a week to help residents enroll.
Community Health Partners has offices in Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Lee but will serve residents from all over the county.