Area health care advocates working to boost enrollment


GREAT BARRINGTON -- With the health insurance enrollment deadline approaching, Community Health Programs will be working to ensure anyone eligible to enroll in ObamaCare is enrolled.

The nonprofit health clinic has launched a six-week campaign to ensure everyone eligible for the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, is enrolled by the March 31 deadline.

"If they qualify we will do everything we can to register [them]," said Bryan Ayars, the chief executive officer for Community Health Programs.

The new law expanding eligibility for government-subsidized health care is expected to affect an estimated 10,873 Berkshire County residents, which includes about 2,000 Commonwealth Care users. The individuals most likely to be impacted are small business owners, employees of small business, young adults and those who have minimal coverage through catastrophic insurance, Ayars said.

Area health care assistance will be critical because the state's health insurance shopping website,, has substantial problems keeping people from signing up for a plan. State officials have contracted a system engineering and integration team to diagnose the website's problems with a report due this Friday -- which could mean the website isn't fixed by the health insurance enrollment deadline.

CHP staff continue to encounter the problem, Ayars said, but they are working around the complications by sending forms through fax and other alternative means.

"People are going to need a lot of assistance working through the application process," Ayars said. "I strongly encourage folks to contact one of the three area agencies helping people."
Locally, residents who need help enrolling into the health insurance program can contact Advocacy for Access in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, Community Health Programs or Ecu-Health Care in North Adams.

CHP has received $61,000 in funding from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The nonprofit will start an advertising blitz about the oncoming deadline. A centerpiece of their outreach campaign is the website,, an easy-to-use website to identify whether they are eligible to enroll.

The new health law expands the eligibility for a subsidized plan. The income requirement for an individual will increase from 300 percent above the poverty level, or $34,476, to 400 percent, or $45,960. A family of four earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level, or $94,200, would now be eligible. The previous income requirement was 300 percent, or $34,476.

In November, the state extended the service plan of Commonwealth Care users through March 31, but they'll need to find a new plan through the Massachusetts Health Connector.

Ayars said they should avoid procrastination with the website failing to perform. While the website has malfunctioned, CHP has enrolled 452 people so far, and they are submitting 30 to 40 applications a week.

"Our hope is to give them a point of entry," Ayars said. "If we can't help them, we can bring them to where they can get help."

In the first three months of enrollment, only 5,428 people used the Health Connector website to sign up for a new plan, according to a report from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is substantially lower than a goal set by the federal government.

In North Adams, Ecu-Health Care Executive Director Charles Joffe-Halpern said they have helped about 300 families enroll since December, while acknowledging significant problems with the Health Connector website.

"We've found they really need assistance from a navigator that could include ourselves, BMC or CHP," Joffe-Halpern said.

CHP enrollment specialists can be contacted at (413) 429-2953. Ecu-Health Care can be contacted at (413) 663-8711.

To reach John Sakata:
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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