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Local hospitals will provide help for uninsured buying coverage

Uninsured patients of the region's two hospitals will soon have access to free services of counselors who can help them sign up for health insurance through the state's new online marketplace, Access Health CT.

"This is going to open up a lot of insurance doors and medical care doors for people who couldn't get proper care," said Susan Greene, supervisor of financial counseling at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London.

She is one of four L+M staff members taking a certified application counselor training course offered through a partnership between the Connecticut Hospital Association and the quasi-public agency that set up Access Health CT as the state's response to the Affordable Care Act.

Michele Sharp, spokeswoman for the association, said 17 hospitals around the state sent staff to the training, where they learn about privacy and security laws as well as the website, Thus far more than 4,000 state residents have applied for health insurance through the website since it went live on Oct. 1.

Greene said the counseling service will be available at the main hospital as well as at the L+M Cancer Center in Waterford, Pequot Health Center in Groton and The Westerly Hospital, and that one of the counselors is bilingual in Spanish and English. The financial counselors receiving the training have already been signing up patients eligible for Medicaid, HUSKY and other state and federal programs, so the training will expand their reach to patients with incomes too high to qualify for government programs. Three private insurance companies offer coverage plans at the gold, silver and bronze levels through Health Access CT.

"This is a perfect fit for us," Greene said.

At The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, one staff member has completed the training and has already signed up one patient through, said Shawn Mawhiney, spokesman for Backus. Another five Backus employees are enrolled in the training class and will be able to offer the service within the next few weeks.

"This is a great opportunity to help patients access health insurance and preventive care," Mawhiney said. "We're very enthused. Any time you're able to enroll people in insurance it's a good thing, and a really proactive way to help patients improve their health care costs and improve their quality of life."

The counselors at Backus will work with patients in the Emergency Department and other areas of the hospital. Those being trained at Backus are access-to-care specialists, who have been helping patients sign up for government programs and find primary care doctors and specialists.

"This is one more tool they'll have to reduce the number of uninsured patients and help reduce stress on the ER," he said.

Backus is also planning to host a special event inviting the public to meet the Access Health CT counselors and get help applying for insurance through the site, Mawhiney said.

The hospital counselors are one of several ways state residents can access the online marketplace. People can go to the site and sign up themselves, or meet with one of trained assisters working out of community organizations and pharmacies. In southeastern Connecticut, about a dozen nonprofit agencies and two pharmacies have sent one or more staff members to be trained as assisters.

Access Health CT also operates a call center, at (855) 805-4325, and offices in New Britain and New Haven where people can sign up for insurance through the marketplace.


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