Health-insurance “assisters” comb D.C. to educate, sell

November 22, 2013

Hard as it might be to believe for those who’ve been pushing, pulling or just writing about the Affordable Care Act for years, not everybody has been following it, even within a couple of miles of Capitol Hill.

So at several Washington Metro stops Friday, smiling “assisters” for the local insurance exchange, D.C. Health Link , were out with megaphones, calling themselves “fact mobs.”

“Good morning!” they shouted. “We are the D.C. fact mob, and we have facts for you!’’

The idea of walking around armed with a megaphone and a few favorite pieces of information sounded appealing.

And outside the U Street Metro station in Shaw, right across from Ben’s Chili Bowl, half a dozen of these young self-described fact mobsters did seem to be enjoying their work. In matching T-shirts, with big grins, they spoke to drivers stuck at red lights or waiting for the No. 96 bus to Capitol Heights: “Health insurance for everyone is important!”

Many Metro riders and pedestrians waved off the live commercials and brochures, but these paid Obamacare advocates were doing some business, too; among those who wanted to hear more were a female private security guard, a mom with twin toddlers and a window washer for a nearby pizza place. A middle-aged guy in a beret walked away acting like he’d won the Lotto.

Jayna Freeman, a Howard student/fact mobster who was working for her church, Good Success Christian Church Ministries, began by telling
22-year-old James Andrade, who was on his way to work, that he might be able to pay less for insurance than he was paying now.

No chance of that, said Andrade, who does maintenance work, because right now he’s uninsured.

“You may have heard” that under the new law “we have to have health insurance or be subject to fines,’’ she told him, and he nodded. “And things are going fine, despite what you hear in the news.”

Not sure that the “going fine” part is a fact so much as a hope: As of Nov. 13, the last date data were available, only 565 people had selected a plan on the D.C. site — of the 65,000 who the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2011 are uninsured in the District.

But Andrade had not heard whether it was going fine or not so fine: “What is it?’’ he asked.

When she told him, he seemed enthusiastic and said he would be attending a Saturday event at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library from 10 to 3, where assisters will work one-on-one to enroll Washingtonians. Maybe House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) will come by and tell them how it took him half the day Thursday, which not everyone might think quite as terrible as he found it.

Fact mobster Dax Buckner, who works for Metro Health Centers, which specializes in STD testing, said he had signed up about 25 patients and answered questions from many more people who didn’t really understand how health insurance worked.

Most satisfying, he said, was helping a man who’d been notified that he was going to lose his insurance who got a “Cadillac” policy on the exchange that offered even more and cost $400 a month less.

“We’re the boots on the ground who will hold your hand through the process,’’ Buckner said. “And on the inside looking out, it feels like we’ve already been successful.”

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.
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