HealthFinders Collaborative (HFC) has recently completed its period as a grantee of the Access to Coverage (Access) program. Access, a 4-year grant program created by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation in April 2013, had two primary goals: increase the number of low-income Minnesotans enrolled in public health care coverage and increase organizations’ capacity to build health care access into their mission and provide ongoing services for sustainability after the end of the grant. HealthFinders has these goals built into their mission of providing quality healthcare advocacy and wellness education to people within our community who have limited healthcare alternatives.
As a result of the important role HFC has in Southeast Minnesota, it was selected in early 2014 to receive funding through the Access program, adding to the original five organizations already selected as grantees. The Foundation provided sustained support for these organizations through grants and technical assistance to increase their capacity to advocate for patients and help them navigate the complex world of healthcare, and in particular applications for health insurance through MNsure.
Between April 2013 and March 2017, the grantees served over 85,000 persons throughout all of Minnesota, 40,239 of which were approved for enrollment in MNsure. A majority of these individuals had no income or income at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). Additionally, the uninsurance rate in Minnesota decreased from 8.2 percent at the time the program was implemented to 4.3 percent in 2015. HealthFinders has played an important role in this expansion in coverage, particularly in Southeast Minnesota. HealthFinders alone served over 2,000 individuals during the grant period (over half of which were approved for MNsure enrollment) and had an almost 200% increase in persons served between 2015 and 2016.
Patient advocacy is a foundational aspect of HealthFinders’ community-engaged wellness model, highlighting why support from programs like Access is so important; as much as it is a safety net, HFC is an access point and this support is an indication of the leadership and collaboration we provide in this area of patient care. Our five certified MNsure navigators (with a sixth close to certification!) provide important resources for patients and help some of the most vulnerable members of our community not only enroll in coverage through MNsure, but support them in connecting to health care services that they need. One of our MNsure navigators, Ali Hassan, shared that he thinks “most of the people we serve are new arrivals in the country. Most of them don’t speak English and don’t know how the healthcare system works. When people come to the US, they face many challenges and need someone they can understand, someone who speaks their language.” HFC has some of the only bilingual/bicultural navigators in the county, and is a lead agency in this work, convening other navigators in the area. Also, HFC has cultivated a unique relationship with Rice County Social Services. Case workers and HFC navigators are in close communication to complete successful and often complex applications.
Herlen, one of HealthFinders’ Patient Advocates and MNsure navigators, says that one of the most important aspects of her work is simply helping patients understand the MNsure application and enrollment process. Language differences are just one of the barriers in this process, as English-speaking patients come to our navigators for support as well. Edith, another Advocate, told us that, “MNsure has been around for a long time and people still don’t know the in’s and out’s of it. Some people come into our office and don’t even know it exists.” She noted this lack of understanding of MNsure as a reason why her role as a MNsure navigator is a vital component of HealthFinders’ work. The work of our MNsure navigators is essential to our model of care, and as Ali tells us, providing this type of advocacy helps “build trust between the organization and the community,” allowing us to increase our capacity for community-engaged wellness.
If you are interested in learning more about the Access to Coverage program, visit https://www.bcbsmnfoundation.org/our-focus/access-to-coverage. To learn more about patient advocacy and how it fits into HealthFinders’ model of community-engaged wellness, visit http://healthfindersmn.org/services/patient-advocacy/ or call us at our Northfield or Faribault clinic.