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Going the Extra Block to Help 'Obamacare' Work in MA

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PHOTO: Despite computer glitches, the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, is a hit with Commonwealth residents who are enrolling with the help of door-to-door canvassers. Courtesy HCFA.
PHOTO: Despite computer glitches, the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, is a hit with Commonwealth residents who are enrolling with the help of door-to-door canvassers. Courtesy HCFA.
December 16, 2013

GREENFIELD, Mass. - They're going the extra block to make sure Commonwealth residents know what Obamacare offers and how to sign up. Enrollment jumped in November in the federal and state health insurance marketplaces, according to the White House. In Massachusetts, door-to-door canvassing by groups like Community Action in Greenfield is helping to make people aware of their choices. According to that group's Kirsten Peterson, to hear the media tell it, opposition to Obamacare is so great that a canvasser might expect unfriendly reactions.

"We are literally walking the blocks to their doorstep," she said. "In a typical shift, we'll go to a hundred doors. There might be one, maybe two people who aren't happy to have us there."

The Commonwealth's computer system has been plagued by problems similar to the federal government's website. It was taken down for maintenance last week, with a deadline looming for those who need coverage by January 1.

Amy Whitcomb Slemmer of the nonprofit Health Care for All is optimistic that computer glitches will be forgotten as the Affordable Care Act does what it is intended to do.

"Even in Massachusetts, there have been difficulties in using the new capabilities of the website, but we are confident that those will be ironed out and there will be improvements," she declared. "Every single day, we should be able to see an improved user experience online."

Kirsten Peterson said mainstream media reports about opposition to Obamacare had her door-to-door volunteer canvassers prepared for hostility.

"So, we expected that we might have people answer the doors and be annoyed with us or even angry. People have been very glad that we're coming around."

The canvassing is being done in communities not reached by navigators - groups certified to help people choose insurance plans from the exchanges.

Amy Whitcomb Slemmer said there's help for non-English speakers as well.

"We've had wonderful success sending out both English, Spanish and Portuguese-speakers into the appropriate communities to help people get the information they need to sign up for coverage."

The canvassing is a Health Care For All initiative in partnership with the Health Connector and 10 community-based organizations around the state.



Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA