By Debra Wood, RN, contributor
January 31, 2014 - Millions of Americans have received health insurance coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but millions more lack coverage. Many remain unaware of the opportunities; therefore, the government has reached out to nurses to assist with further ACA enrollments.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius encouraged nurses to educate people about the Affordable Care Act and the difference in health possible with insurance coverage.
“Nurses play a critical and important role in these efforts,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on a recent national conference call with nurses. “You know from your first-hand experience how important health coverage can be.”
People trust information about the ACA when it comes from nurses and physicians, Sebelius added. She asked nurses to continue their efforts through open enrollment, which ends in March 2014. Many people have signed up for health coverage for the first time in their lives.
“Often, they want to turn to a nurse that they trust [for decisions about health coverage],” said Sebelius, indicating that the cost of coverage for many people is less than a cell-phone bill. “But to access those benefits, people need to know about them.”
More than 11 million Americans have gained coverage through the ACA, said Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Approximately 2.1 million people gained private coverage through the Healthcare.gov marketplace, 6.3 million through the expansion of Medicaid, and 3 million young adults were able to stay on their parents’ policies until they were 26 years old. Additionally, insurance plans have been strengthened, and consumer protections have been added.
Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, administrator of HRSA, said the ACA has created thousands of nursing positions across the country and provided needed funds for nursing education and training.
“More needs to be done to help spread awareness,” Wakefield said. “This is one of the things nurses do best. They educate.”
Many nurses have begun teaching people about Healthcare.gov and the importance of having insurance coverage. HRSA offers providers educational materials, including patient handouts, posters and sample slides for presentations, on its website.
Wisconsin Nurses Association (WNA) member and Marquette University graduate student Jessica Coburn, MA, RN, shared her experience as a certified application counselor for Healthcare.gov, working with WNA to educate nurses about the act and website and the Jefferson County Health Department to enroll people as part of her master’s capstone project.
“The [ACA] incites passion in people, and I wanted to find out why,” Coburn said.
Wisconsin Nurses Association’s 45-member ACA Enrollment Task Force has educated nurses at hospitals and universities across the state about the ACA, and developed webinars and a website displaying accurate, nonpartisan information about the law.
“Nurses like to hear this information from other nurses,” Coburn said. “Nurses, patients and community members have been enthusiastic.”
Coburn hopes other nurses learn more about the act and enrollment, so they are in a position to improve the law.
“We’re suited for this, and I hope between this and other health care policies, we get more nurses sitting at the table,” Coburn said.
Adriana Perez, PhD, ANP, assistant professor at Arizona State University College of Nursing and a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, explained how the association has been teaching nurses about the law through public events. They have reached more than 1,000 multicultural communities through 56 community forums.
“Nurses know the fundamentals of the ACA,” Perez said. “This has been an important way for our nurses to develop leadership and advocacy skills.”
Melissa Fox, managing director of the Public Health Management Corp., operator of federally qualified health clinics and other programs in Philadelphia, shared her organization’s outreach program--holding or participating in more than 65 educational or enrollment events.
“Being visible and available has been key,” Fox said.
As a result of the ACA, community health centers have added 4,500 nursing positions nationwide, and 236 new sites will open this year, providing primary care and offering more nursing employment opportunities, Wakefield said. The ranks of the National Health Service Corps have more than doubled from 3,600 before the law was enacted to 8,900 primary care providers today. School-based health centers and home-visiting programs for pregnant women also have expanded, Wakefield added.
The act also provided more than $15 million for nurse-managed health clinics, $30 million to prepare more primary care advanced practice nurses and $200 million for graduate nursing education.
“These and other training investments are critical to ensure we have a nursing and health care workforce capable of caring for an expanding population and an aging population,” Wakefield said.
“Nurses in America have always supported health reform,” Sebelius said. “Finally, we have an opportunity with your help and support to make a difference in the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”
Wakefield encourages nurses to talk with friends and neighbors as well as patients about the ACA and the difference health having coverage means.
“What each nurse does from now through the end of March will have a great impact on whether people in our communities obtain insurance coverage,” Wakefield said. “Coverage can be life-changing.”
Nurses can learn more about The Affordable Care Act and HRSA Programs, and link directly to HRSA’s Provider Marketplace Toolkit.
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