Next ACA open enrollment begins Nov. 15

sea of Health Insurance FormsSocial workers can aid millions of Americans in signing up for health care coverage as the next open enrollment period for the Health Insurance Marketplace, under the Affordable Care Act, takes place Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, 2015.

NASW and other social work organizations are partnering with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, to develop a toolkit for social workers on what they need to know about connecting people to coverage.

“We are enthusiastic to be partnering with NASW and see huge potential for our collaboration,” said Angelica Gutierrez, a social worker and special assistant at the CMS Office of Communications, Partner Relations Group.

Vulnerable populations that social workers serve stand to benefit the most from having health coverage since many will qualify for cost-reduction assistance that can make insurance affordable, Gutierrez said.

Many of the people currently uninsured come in contact with social workers, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants, those under age 35, and those with limited incomes.

“Many of you also work with clients living in complex situations, such as homelessness, incarceration, immigration, etc.,” Gutierrez said, “so we’re striving to provide key information about health coverage eligibility options available for clients with some unique life circumstances.”

Social workers play an important role in the Marketplace (part of the ACA) enrollment process because they have the skills to meet people where they are, listen to concerns, address fears and dispel myths, she said. They are also vital to building partnerships with neighborhood agencies and inspiring grassroots efforts.

Gutierrez noted that while social workers do not need to become experts in understanding the ACA, they need to be aware of the resources that can help clients in the enrollment process.

“When you are informed, you can confidently empower your clients and community with the information they need to make an informed decision about their health coverage,” she said.

While the social work toolkit was not available at press time, there are other resources for social workers available now.

One way agencies can help CMS enroll consumers is by becoming a Certified Application Counselor, or CAC, organization.

Social workers can also refer clients to local, in-person assistance by visiting Questions about the CAC program, or other ways to partner with CMS, should be emailed to

Gutierrez said there is also a great need to educate those who are newly enrolled on how to use their benefits and access preventive services to manage chronic disease.

To help with this effort, CMS’s new initiative, From Coverage to Care ( features a community toolkit, educational modules, video vignettes and more that social workers can use to assist clients.

CMS will host an upcoming webinar with NASW, the Council on Social Work Education and the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care to explain the process for social work practitioners and students to become Certified Application Counselors.

Darla Spence Coffey, president and CEO of CSWE, said the organization is eager to work with CMS to help engage social work students in the health coverage enrollment process.

“Because social work students gain their field education in a variety of settings, I view the role of social work in this as pivotal to ensuring the aims of the ACA,” Coffey said. “The training involved in becoming a Certified Application Counselor complements the generalist foundation of social work education by focusing on the education and empowerment of consumers to make the best choices for themselves and/or their families.”

Hospital social workers make a difference in ACA enrollment

Kootenai Health in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, provides a comprehensive range of medical services to patients in northern Idaho, eastern Washington, Montana and the Inland Northwest at several locations, including five rural hospitals.

Social workers at the organization took the training to be Certified Application Counselors for ACA enrollment last year.

Despite the technical glitches of the launch of the ACA enrollment website and Idaho lawmakers’ opposition to the ACA, Idaho ended up enrolling 78,000 people, said Pam Thompson, director of social service at Kootenai Health and current president of the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care.

“We were second to Vermont in enrollees per population,” she said, “which we were proud of, given our state’s resistance.”

“Over 50 percent of enrollees ended up with no monthly premium payment,” Thompson added. “We have a lot of working poor here. Many walked out crying because they had a family plan with no premium – they were hugging and crying because they got health care, which was so exciting.”

Thompson and her staff of 42 social workers are once again preparing to be trained as Certified Application Counselors for the ACA for the next open enrollment period.

“We get calls every day from people asking to sign up,” she said. “People are chomping at the bit for November 15 to come.”

Another key step in helping people obtain health care is connecting new enrollees with a primary care physician, Thompson said.

“We’re working hard this year to get people a family doctor as part of the Coverage to Care campaign,” she said.

In addition to training staff to become Certified Application Counselors, Kootenai Health plans to host a publicity campaign so the public knows help is available.

Thompson is spreading the word to other hospital social workers across the state about the value of becoming a Certified Application Counselor as well.

“More than anything, I am trying to get social workers to know that they are perfect for this role,” she said. “They work with families that have issues with health care.”

NASW resources: ACA

NASW Senior Practice Associate Stacy Collins wrote the August 2014 Practice Perspective, “Social Work Update on the Affordable Care Act: What Impact Has the Law Had on Those We Serve." {}

Collins notes that many NASW chapters are working with Enroll America a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on maximizing the number of Americans who are enrolled in and retain health coverage.

Champions for Coverage

NASW is a member of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Champions for Coverage initiative, which includes organizations and businesses throughout the nation that are committed to spreading the message about opportunities for people to access quality, affordable health insurance through the Marketplace. To join, visit Champions for Coverage.