Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sociologists examine how Obamacare rollout has fared in rural Central Pennsylvania

With the March 31 deadline for open enrollment under federal health reform looming, a group of sociologists working with undergraduate students, university faculty and local health-care providers to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in rural Central Pennsylvania decided to take a look at how it's gone, focusing on education, enrollment and evaluation. Pennsylvania did not expand Medicaid.

"As we’ve educated the community about ACA enrollment, we’ve learned that residents also need education about social services, other health-care programs and health literacy in general," Kristal Jones and Brandn Green write for the Daily Yonder. (Rural Assistance Center graphic)

While open enrollment might be accomplished most easily online, the researchers found that this wasn't true for all. "For many rural residents, access to computers and the Internet is a challenge, as are the skills to navigate computer-based systems," Jones and Green write. "Enter enthusiastic, tech-savvy college students. There are several small public and private universities in our area. Many of these students have little experience with the region, but they want to learn more. Helping with ACA enrollment gave them that opportunity."

Jones and Green write that "Reaching our rural residents required us to pay attention to the social and cultural details of our area. We reached people through the classified-ads section of local newspapers, on local radio and television programs and through other social-service providers.  We also heard from state legislators’ offices (all of which were Republican) who wanted help responding to constituents who were seeking assistance."

"Providing good health-insurance counseling to rural residents requires counseling organizations to know more than just the provisions of the ACA," Jones and Green write. "They also need to know their specific rural communities and institutions. The needs of potential enrollees will differ by area. In our region, aging populations and high rates of informal employment (primarily in agriculture and natural resources) mean that we have had to learn about a range of related social-service programs to best help those seeking enrollment assistance." (Read more)

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