PITTSFIELD — Reaching the remaining 3.7 percent of state residents who remain uninsured has proven a pesky problem for state health officials, one of whom visited the Berkshires on Friday in an effort to reach the "rural poor," part of target uninsured population.
During a visit to Tapestry Health on Wendell Avenue on Friday, Jason Lefferts, director of communications of the Massachusetts Health Connector, said open enrollment is underway and will continue until Dec. 23. The organization recently became a "Navigator," whose staff helps people through the application process.
The 3.7 percent uninsured figure "has been pretty consistent the last six or seven years," Lefferts said.
"We have not really directly talked to those people very much, so one of the things we're doing is targeting the areas with relatively high uninsured rates," Lefferts said.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who helped get the message out Friday, added, "Having everyone covered by health insurance is good for every one of us. That is what keeps health care costs down. Talk to family members, talk to neighbors, talk to people that you work with and ask the question: Do you have coverage?"
Lack of Internet access — particularly in rural towns; disillusionment caused by past troubles trying to register; lack of computer facility or confusion at the application process; fears of high costs and transiency; and changing addresses comprise some of the reasons state residents remain uninsured.
Lefferts and Farley-Bouvier advised that these people to visit a place like Tapestry or Ecu-Health Care in North Adams to get the help they need.
"We have challenges here in Berkshire County: People who live in poverty, rural poverty in particular, and getting the message to those people that help is here and available is a challenge, but I think we're up to the challenge," Farley-Bouvier said.
Alyssa Valbona, Franklin County health services manager for Tapestry Health, said the organization is proud to offer more comprehensive services to clients.
"We see a lot of [uninsured, lower-income] folks in our clinics," Valbona said, "and have a good net that catches uninsured people when they come into the clinic. We know catching rural poverty is definitely challenging. Some people still don't have Internet. They can come to the clinic and get as much or as little help as they need."
Christopher Cappucci, legislative director for state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said the problem is a common one in Mark's district, where more than 75 percent of towns lack adequate Internet.
"It's great that Tapestry and other local organizations are stepping up and trying to figure out the problem, because we're not going to end rural poverty if people are sick and have no access to telecom services," Cappucci said.
Those afraid of the costs, Farley-Bouvier said, probably qualify for MassHealth or some other form of subsidized insurance. Ultimately, she said, it "costs more" to go uninsured, and the risk is great.
Interested parties may view health insurance options and enroll through the Health Connector at MAhealthconnector.org.