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Mapping A Strategy To Reach Uninsured In King County, Wash.

Health officials in King County, Wash., are rallying the troops and drafting maps to prepare for an all-out effort to get health-care coverage for uninsured residents.

Countywide, approximately 16 percent of the population lacks health insurance. But from Burien and Tukwila south to the county line, and in scattered pockets to the north, those numbers are higher, reaching nearly one-third in some places.

Officials will specifically target these areas for education and outreach in order to boost insurance coverage as required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Officials need to be strategic, considering they aim to enroll, in the six months beginning Oct. 1, as many as they can of the 217,300 uninsured adults the county counted in 2011. (The state estimates the number could reach 282,200, including children, by 2014.)

That’s why Dr. David Fleming, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County, wanted a map that took a close look at where the folks without insurance are living.

The information will allow the agency to better understand who they are trying to reach: Is there a high concentration of a certain ethnic group? Does the population include large numbers of “young invincibles,” who often eschew health insurance?

It also helps to highlight where the agency should allocate its resources.

Once enrollment starts in October, state officials will be able to track where people are signing up for insurance. Fleming and his staff will scrutinize and respond to those numbers.

“It allows us in real time to change the focus of our outreach efforts,” Fleming said.

If enrollment is low in an area with a particular immigrant population, for example, the county could provide additional printed materials in their language. Or if the audience includes a lot of young people, the outreach could shift to better appeal to them.

Public Health staff is starting to train an army of health-care troops from community health, housing and social-service centers who will connect with these folks on the ground.

Daphne Pie, program manager for Public Health’s access and outreach, says her organization has weathered countless policy changes over the years. Programs that help low-income families and retired residents can expand, contract or even disappear, but the need to help people navigate shifting policies has remained.

“We have been doing it for so long, we don’t have to create a network,” she said. “We don’t have to ramp up.”

The challenge, Pie said, will be making sure they are able to successfully train the groups partnering with Public Health to help people wend their way through the new insurance and expanded Medicaid programs. Twenty-three community groups will help them educate and recruit uninsured residents.

One partner is Sea Mar Community Health Centers, which has about 60 health facilities across the Puget Sound region.

“It’s a little overwhelming trying to speculate what we’re going to be dealing with,” said Rudy Vasquez, director of Sea Mar’s managed-care operations. “We don’t know what the response is going to be. We’re still trying to wrap our heads around it.”

Despite the uncertainty, Vasquez says people in his organization are trying to get out in front of the effort. Already, they’re attending community events to answer questions about the new law and reaching out to current patients who lack insurance to prepare them to enroll.

Vasquez looks forward to a new normal that includes better care for more people.

“It’s not a project for us,” he said. “It’s more of a mission.”

Related Topics

States The Health Law Uninsured