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Working uninsured bombard health centers

How can I sign up for West Virginia Connect? 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians with jobs but no insurance bombarded Charleston-area community health centers with phone calls Monday, hoping to sign up for one of 10,000 "slots" in West Virginia Connect, the state's new health care demonstration program.

Enrollees pay no more than $30 a year for non-hospital care from the center. That includes unlimited doctor visits, screenings and immunizations, and access to low-cost pharmacy and care coordination, among other services.

"There were already 35 messages on the answering machine when I got to work," said Jennifer Russell, administrative assistant at Cabin Creek Health Systems.

"We've been slammed with calls," said Steve Shattls, CEO of Huntington-based Valley Health Systems.

"I haven't been able to call out for the past hour, because all our lines have been tied up," said Kelli Aftanas, West Virginia Connect coordinator for FamilyCare health center in Kanawha and Putnam counties. "Every time I reach for the phone, it rings."

"It shows how much working people need affordable health care," said Amber Crist, Cabin Creek's education director. Many callers work for small businesses or are self-employed, she said. Cabin Creek is enrolling individuals who make up to $43,320.

The eight participating centers will keep enrolling until 10,000 people sign up, Aftanas said. About 2,500 had signed up by the weekend, according to the centers' staff.

 Participants agree to make the center their "medical home" and let their medical data be folded anonymously into a 10,000-person database, intended to help state health leaders make more informed decisions, as federal health reform unfolds.

The federal Health Research and Services Administration HRSA funded the project to help the state get ready for 2014, when an estimated 260,000 uninsured residents get coverage through federal health care reform.

 It's a new program, John Law, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources said Monday, so some people who answer the phone may not yet be familiar with it. "Be persistant," he advised.

The DHHR is overseeing the program statewide.

People do not have to already be a health center patient, Law said. "One of our main goals is to enroll people who do not now have regular care," he said.

Lincoln Primary Care is holding public signup sessions this week in a library, school, and wellness center. "We'll sign people up 'till we reach our limit," said Kim Estep, project coordinator.

Even after the slots are gone, "the community health centers have so much to offer uninsured people," Cabin Creek's Crist said. "We have a sliding scale, a low-cost pharmacy, even a program that includes hospitalization. This is one good program among many."

Reach Kate Long at katelong@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.


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