Social workers discuss enrollment process for health care under ACA

Jun 19, 2014

By Rena Malai, News staff

Talking to people about their health is all in a day’s work, according to Katie Merrill, an MSW student at the University of Albany School of Social Welfare in New York.

MSW student Katie Merrill, left, is part of the contracted navigator program at the University of Albany School of Social Welfare in New York. Students like Merrill guide people who are enrolling for health care under the ACA. Photo by Mark Schmidt/University of Albany

Merrill is one of the student health care navigators for the university’s contracted navigator program, which serves the New York counties of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Columbia and Greene.

“We would go out into the community, talk to people one on one, and sign them up for health care on the spot, using laptops,” she said.

The 2014 deadline to enroll for health care under the Affordable Care Act was March 31, and the University of Albany’s program is one of many across the U.S. that employed NASW members, social workers, and social work students as health care navigators to help people get enrolled by the deadline.

Katharine Briar-Lawson, dean of the University of Albany School of Social Welfare, said social work skills provide the tenacity for navigators to see the process through. The navigators at the University of Albany stayed with individuals until they were able to fully complete, understand and use a health insurance plan they had just enrolled in, she said.

“The work of a health care navigator is pioneering; they are the first people involved at the ground level,” Briar-Lawson added.

About 1 million people in New York enrolled in health care plans by the 2014 ACA deadline, according to the New York state health department. In the South, Alabama also saw high enrollment, said Daniel Liss, co-founder of Bama Covered, a grassroots student movement that works to educate Alabama families about their health care options.

Liss said several social work students volunteered with Bama Covered to get people signed up. The online process to enroll for health care is fairly straightforward, he said, but it can be complicated for those who are not computer savvy. There are a lot of little steps and lots of questions to figure out whether someone is best suited for Medicaid or a private plan, he said.

“It’s very helpful to have someone sit with you to walk you through it,” Liss said. “As of April 12, over 94,000 in Alabama enrolled. (Health care enrollment) has been incredibly successful here.”

From the June 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.