Yes, they can
Some 7,000 homeless people in King County qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The trick is to find them
David Chapman, 31, hasn’t had health insurance since he was 18, when he aged out of his parents’ plan.
For the past 13 years Chapman has lived in shelters and tent camps and spent some time in jail. Whenever he needed medical care he went to the emergency room.
In 2004, he tore a rotator cuff and walked out of the ER with pain killers, his arm in a sling.
In 2010, after he fell off a skateboard and got a hernia, he ended up in the ER again. Another time, it was a 104-degree temperature, he said.
One thing remained the same: On each visit, emergency room doctors sent him away with a prescription he couldn’t fill or a referral to a specialist that he couldn’t afford.
In January, that could change.
Chapman is one of an estimated 7,000 homeless people in King County and 8.7 million people nationwide who could qualify for Medicaid on Jan. 1 thanks to the Affordable Care Act. If he gets a Medicaid card, Chapman will pay nothing for his health care.
The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, expands Medicaid coverage to anyone living at 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $15,000 a year for a single adult.
Beginning Oct. 1, staff and volunteers from Seattle-King County Public Health and a number of nonprofits serving homeless people fanned out to food banks, day centers and meal programs looking for other people like Chapman.
Chapman arrived at Transform Burien’s hot-meal program on a recent Wednesday, intending to eat some casserole in the community center while his girlfriend had a dental appointment outside, at King County’s Mobile Medical Clinic. Instead, he found himself meeting with Whitney Walker, an outreach specialist for HealthPoint, a nonprofit community clinic, who was there to find new Medicaid clients.
Walker will spend the next three months helping people fill out Medicaid applications.
She said she was so excited about the work that she couldn’t sleep the night before: “This is what I’ve been waiting for for the last year.”
The Washington Health Care Authority, which is overseeing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion in Washington, allocated $6 million to train outreach workers like Walker to assist people in filling out their applications.
Dozens of others around the county are doing the same. The Downtown Emergency Services Center trained 28 of its staff members to help the organization’s more than 2,000 clients sign up. Staff at Evergreen Treatment Center were also trained to engage the 500 clients it serves.
Outreach workers got off to a slow start. The state’s computer system was overloaded with people signing up for insurance.
So instead of using a computer, Walker pulled out a nine-page paper application. She and another HealthPoint outreach worker met with about a dozen people, slowly writing out the forms, which they would later input into a computer.
They expect most of the people they meet will qualify for the program and have a Medicaid card by Jan. 1.
“I wish everything was working 100 percent, but I know we’re going to get there,” said John Gilvar, Seattle-King County Public Health’s high-risk populations coordinator. “It hasn’t really dampened our enthusiasm.”
Chapman, by contrast, was nonchalant. He lives with constant back pain, he said, and needs surgery.
“It was going to cost thousands of dollars without insurance,” he said. He will use Medicaid to have surgery, “if I can get the cost down,” he said.
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