Washtenaw Health Initiative helps 700 residents get health care coverage, state assistance
The Washtenaw Health Initiative — a volunteer group organized to prepare the Ann Arbor area for the full implementation for federal health care reform and to help eligible residents get access to government assistance — said today that it had helped more than 700 disconnected local residents get state assistance.
The collaborative initiative — which includes the University of Michigan Health System, St. Joseph Mercy Health System and the Washtenaw County Health Plan — launched in January 2011 and completed a list of recommendations in September.
The effort got a boost in September when two employees from the state's Department of Human Services were stationed permanently in the offices of the Washtenaw Health Plan, providing "direct access to community members who are at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage of public assistance benefits as well as those who may be eligible for assistance but not yet enrolled," according to a news release.
The workers, Tiffany Gore and Liz Ahrens, helped more than 200 single adults who were close to losing their Medicaid coverage keep it. They also helped more than 200 eligible residents apply for food stamps and helped another 261 people apply for "medical assistance," 69 for disability help and 22 for emergency relief.
Although federal health care reform is expected to give 50,000 currently uninsured county residents access to health insurance, officials still expect confusion about how to actually get coverage.
By working with groups like the Washtenaw Health Plan, the Washtenaw Health Initiative hopes to establish a firm pathway for local residents who are eligible for health care coverage or assistance but aren't getting it.
"If federal health care reform is repealed, there will still be community members who can't access the care they need," said Bob Guenzel, a former Washtenaw County administrator who is serving as co-chair of the Washtenaw Health Initiative, in a statement. "There will still be a need — and perhaps it will be even greater — for communities to work together on improving care for its citizens."
The group is also implementing a series of initiatives to improve access to care. Among its findings was that more than 33,000 uninsured Washtenaw residents do not have a primary care physician. If those people get doctors after federal health care reform is fully implemented in 2014, they would take 54,000 annual visits to primary care physicians, leading to even more demand for primary care doctors in a system that already needs more. The county had 983 primary care doctors as of July.
The voluntary collaboration includes more than 70 people representing more than 30 organizations, including the Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation, a nonprofit supported by U-M and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.