New Americans Navigate A Complicated Health Care Exchange

Mar 17, 2014

A number of Vermonters have had trouble registering for insurance on the Health Care Exchange. For those whose first language is not English, the process has been even more complicated. With the March 15th registration deadline already behind us, some new Vermonters are still navigating the process.

At the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski last week, several dozen new Americans met with representatives from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

Mohamed Abdullahi is a Somali interpreter. He says one of the most challenging aspects of his work is translating health care terms.

“It’s difficult because I have to explain some of the words that aren’t in Somali,” said Abdullahi. “Because we never used those words in our language, or in our countries.”

He says the word “co-payment” is a common example.

“We don’t have an exact word for that,” said Abdullahi. “So I have to say, ‘co-payment is money you are paying when you visit a doctor or have a prescription.’”

BCBSVT saw a need for clearer information about the exchange. The company targeted the Nepali and Somali Bantu groups because they’re among the more recent arrivals through Burlington’s Refugee Resettlement program.

Beth Esmond is the director of communications for BCBSVT. She says she regrets that the sessions didn’t begin earlier in the enrollment process.

“We did have the idea kind of late in the game,” said Esmond. “But we were kind of seeing that some of the new Americans were being left out of this discussion, and we were worried that maybe they weren’t getting the information that they needed.”

"We did have the idea kind of late in the game, but we were kind of seeing that some of the new Americans were being left out of this discussion." - Beth Esmond, Blue Cross and Blue Sheild of Vermont.

Esmond says some of the most common questions were around the transition from state subsidized programs to plans on the health care exchange.

“A lot of folks were on Catamount or on VHAP, and are now not going to be allowed to be on those products anymore,” said Esmond. “So they have questions about the transition.”

Those on the lower-income end of Catamount Health were automatically enrolled in Medicaid, but not everyone fell into that category.

If Vermonters who were on Catamount –and who don’t qualify for Medicaid- don’t register for a plan on the exchange by May 31, they will be shut out of insurance plans for the year.

And for those who are uninsured, that deadline is even sooner- March 31.

Nepali interpreter Bidur Dahal also thinks the reach-out to non-English speakers could have happened sooner.

“I would have wanted it a lot earlier than now,” said Dahal. “Maybe a few months earlier, but still, at least we organized this.”

BCBSVT will be holding another interpreted session this Tuesday, March 18th at Community Health Center in Burlington.