Despite the ongoing political machinations of the Republican Party, open enrollment for individuals officially began for the Affordable Care Act – also known as “Obamacare” – as scheduled.

In Maryland, as in other states, the launch did not happen without glitches, yet day one was far from the catastrophe predicted – and perhaps hoped for – by some opponents of the law.

“We are still experiencing some technical challenges with the website,” said Carolyn Quattrocki, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform on Oct. 1.

“We’ve seen a high volume of web traffic, and the site had some unexpected bottlenecks. Our IT teams are working aggressively to resolve these issues…In the meantime, we have found tremendous interest in coverage, 87,000 people have visited the website and more than 1,000 people have called the call center.

There has been a lot of excitement about expanded coverage,” Quattrocki added.
Open enrollment into Maryland Health Connection – the state’s health insurance marketplace mandated by the Affordable Care Act – lasts until March 31. Coverage begins for individuals on Jan. 1.

In West Baltimore at Coppin State University’s School of Nursing – consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation – operates the Community Health Center, which provides healthcare for the uninsured and underserved.

“At the nursing center yesterday there really wasn’t any significant change in the environment on the first day, and I think it (beginning of open enrollment) was overshadowed by the government shutdown,” Dr. Marcella Copes, dean and professor of the School of Nursing.”there was more energy relating to that and people being upset and disappointed and angry with our government…from the patient point of view.

“But, from a faculty point of view and from a student point of view, they were very excited because part of .. our goal is to be able to provide care for those who do not have care or cannot afford care,” Copes said.

However, some of the individuals who did attempt to register on Oct. 1 experienced some of the challenges other Maryland residents encountered.

“Some of the comments that I did hear from folks who did try was that they were not able to get through the system because of the number of people that were accessing the system on the first day. So, hopefully they will not be discouraged and will continue…and be able to sign up.”

“For the community that Coppin serves this will be life-changing when they truly understand…that individuals will be able to get the healthcare they’ve been putting off for years,” Copes added.

In Northwest Baltimore, the Park Heights Community Health Alliance’s managers have been preparing for some time for open enrollment’s launch and also take the long view in helping provide better healthcare choices for one of the city’s most underserved populations.

“On the first day, there was no expectation of people knocking down the doors to come and get enrolled. We have had some calls and we were prepared for that,” said Willie Flowers, executive director of the Park Heights Community Health Alliance (PHCHA), which operates as a navigator program in the central region for Maryland Health Connection.

“We started two years ago, alarming people about what was coming and early in 2012 we did a town hall that was a follow up to activities sponsored by Congressman Cummings,” added Flowers, who has been with the PHCHA since 2009. We’ve been doing consistent enrollment of young people into the children’s health insurance program. We’re putting it out there,”

The organization operates as a health care “navigator,” which enrolls individuals into Medicaid and private coverage and a health care “assister,” which only enrolls individuals into Medicaid. But, Flowers says there is a broader goal for Park Heights.

“Enrollment and health entitlements not the only thing. Quite frankly our effort here is to introduce the community to holistic avenues of living and understanding of wellness and how to apply that and make wellness a part of your life on the front end so health challenges are mitigated,” Flowers said.

We focus on food. We have a community garden…that allows people to benefit from the freshest stuff that they’re going to eat in this neighborhood. The collards, the kale, the cabbage, the broccoli, the cauliflower is all medicinal, it helps fight cancer. The idea is to spread education about the healing properties that are in those plants,” added Flowers.

“Unfortunately, we are socialized to get medical care when we see blood or are in chronic pain. That’s why the role of organizations like ours…is to get them enrolled. From a grassroots standpoint we have to take advantage of whatever we can to get people interested. We have organizers that know these experiences and can talk their language.”


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor