Princeton, N.J.—A team of U.S. veterans will now be engaged in a new mission of helping the uninsured access health care coverage under a new initiative from the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA).
NJHA has received a $1.8 million grant from New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), a local funding arm of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), to hire former U.S. servicemen and women and train them to assist consumers who are exploring new insurance options under the Affordable Care Act. Twenty-five veterans are being hired for the program. They will complete a federal Web-based training program to become Certified Application Counselors (CACs), plus additional training on state-based programs including NJ FamilyCare. Once certified, the veterans are deployed in hospitals and community sites across the state to answer consumer questions and offer enrollment assistance.
The program was officially announced today in a Veterans Day event hosted by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, where the newly certified CACs staffed an information table to answer consumers’ enrollment questions.
“Because veterans offer a unique set of skills, discipline and leadership abilities developed during their years in the military, they are ideal candidates to fill the role of CACs,” said Aline Holmes, RN, director of the NJHA Institute for Quality and Patient Safety and herself a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy Nursing Corps during the Vietnam war. “This is just a new deployment of their skills in service to others.”
The program comes amid a critical time in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, with the current open enrollment period continuing through March 31. The open enrollment period allows individuals to compare insurance plans and sign up for coverage, either online through the federal website, via telephone or by completing a paper application. Some individuals and families may be eligible for tax credits and subsidies to make the coverage more affordable. Others may be eligible for state-based programs such as Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare. While the online Marketplace at www.Healthcare.gov has had technical glitches in its initial rollout, New Jersey’s veteran CACs have been trained in the various paths to enrollment.
“The process of enrolling can seem daunting ... and that’s what we’re there for—to guide them through the process,” said Jim Logan of Mount Ephraim, a U.S. Army veteran who was unemployed before being hired as a CAC.
RWJF and NJHI have been active supporters of expanding access to health insurance coverage, and officials said they were interested in funding a program to help consumers navigate the new insurance landscape, with the added benefit of using formerly unemployed veterans.
“The ability to expand the number of CACs in New Jersey falls right in line with the commitment of NJHI and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to improve the health and healthcare for all New Jerseyans,” said Bob Atkins, RN, PhD, director of NJHI. “We knew that NJHA would be a strong partner for this project as they have the experience and resources to move this project forward quickly and effectively.”
According to the N.J. Department of Labor, the jobless rate for veterans in New Jersey is 10 percent, compared with the overall jobless rate of 8.8 percent.
NJHA worked with Labor Department officials to hire veterans for the CAC team. NJHA is providing them with training, equipping them with mobile tablets, scheduling enrollment events across the state and gathering data and feedback about the program’s progress in enrolling individuals into insurance programs.
The program is funded for one year. At the end of the grant period, NJHA will perform exit interviews with the CACs to measure their job satisfaction and new workplace skills, with the goal of providing them experience and opportunities for continued success in the workplace.
“This is a wonderful example of a boots-on-the-ground program that can make a real difference in the lives of the veterans who secure good jobs, and the uninsured individuals and families they will help access healthcare coverage,” said NJHA President and CEO Betsy Ryan.
Marine Corps veteran Michael Mimms of Sicklerville said the newly certified CACs are ready to serve and are confident in their new mission.
“Vets can get things done,” he said.
The New Jersey Hospital Association, based in Princeton, is a not-for-profit trade association representing hospitals and post-acute care providers across the state. NJHA partners with its members to help them provide quality, affordable and accessible healthcare to their communities.