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NAACP Partners With Advocacy Group To Present Affordable Care Act Information Sessions

Home News Tribune / MyCentralJersey.com — Monday, February 17, 2014

Written by
Monica Chenault-Kilgore
Correspondent

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a few people sat quietly among the pews of Somerset Baptist Church in the Somerset section of Franklin, while others busied themselves resolving a problem positioning PowerPoint images squarely on a large screen. A well-worn hymnal provided the answer as it propped up the projector perfectly.

It seemed an appropriate solution considering the message on a banner that dominated the room stating "Things happen when Jesus shows up."

The presentation was one of many planned to help New Jersey residents understand and obtain medical coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act.

With the March 31 enrollment deadline looming, the Metuchen-Edison and New Brunswick branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have partnered with New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA), a progressive advocacy coalition, to offer a series of awareness sessions to help people enroll by the deadline and avoid being penalized for not having health insurance coverage.

The NAACP historically has worked at the grassroots level through churches, barbershops and beauty salons.

Undeterred by the day's small turnout, Bruce Morgan, president of the New Brunswick NAACP chapter said, "My mindset is that if I help one (person) I'm doing my job. We're getting the word out in the community by word-of-mouth and through local NAACP websites and social media. We are going to start making personal phone calls to offer a personal touch. Our people are skeptical about the (Affordable Care Act) program. They ask is it real? We want to see it rolling out."

Enrollment in the plan is increasing and advocates expect to see heavy traffic to the website as the deadline approaches.

Citizen Action Health Policy Advocate, Maura Collinsgru, said that once New Jersey's publicly funded health insurance program, NJ FamilyCare, applications are processed, enrollment in New Jersey should exceed 100,000 with 35,000 of those having paid premiums. To keep the momentum going, Collinsgru pleaded with the group to go out into their community and knock on doors to share the fliers, brochures and resources that included contact information to certified enrollment assistants who can help people sign up for coverage.

"Let's take them out into the neighborhood, drop them off at corner stores, barbershops, the laundromat, the dollar stores and drugstores," she said. "Take the information where you know people need it. We want you to take them to your communities."

Collinsgru guided the audience through the presentation explaining eligibility, enrollment options and penalties. Three certified enrollment assistants also were on hand to enroll and answer questions about the health insurance marketplace. The audience responded with questions ranging from options for veterans, seniors on Medicaid and small business owners.

Frank Winter, partnership manager for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, gave the audience an overview of statewide outreach efforts and answered questions. He said most of his outreach efforts in New Jersey have been with hundreds of community partners that have direct contact with the uninsured such as health centers, and with organizations such as primary care associations, health underwriters and brokers.

Problems with www.healthcare.gov "slowed things down a lot. New Jersey is one of only four of the federal markets where enrollment numbers at the end of December was over 10 times of what it was at the end of November," Winter said. New Jersey "had a huge explosion of enrollment. We hope that is (the result) of the work we are doing."

"The vast majority of people are enrolling through the website or through the phone number," he added. "Everyone seems to think that March is going to be the busy month. We want to help with that. It's not as busy now. Now is the time for people to look into it."

This session was the second of a number of planned community outreach efforts. Morgan said the next session will be Saturday at North Stelton AME Church in Piscataway. National NAACP representatives will appeal to the congregation and community to enroll or get friends and family to enroll.

Additional sessions are scheduled at churches, libraries and other public venues throughout Middlesex County. For information on locations, visit www.njcitizenaction.org for New Jersey Citizen Action, and www.naacpmeab.org, for the Metuchen-Edison NAACP.

"It takes many hands to make this work," Collinsgru noted.

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