Sharewood Project Brings Healthcare to Low-Income Communities

MALDEN, Mass.—The Sharewood Project is a volunteer-run health clinic founded in 1997. Medical students and doctors from Tufts University Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance staff the program. Its clinic provides case managers every Tuesday evening to help people set up online health insurance accounts at the state Massachusetts Health Connector website and fill out applications for any of the health insurance plans offered.

Case management changed drastically with the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA, better known as “Obamacare”). In order to help people enroll in ACA-certified health insurance plans, the Sharewood Project and its team of 20 case managers needed to be certified as Certified Application Counselors. In November 2013, the clinic submitted information on the various categories of health services that they provide to the Department of Public Health for certification review. Afterward, case managers completed an online case-management tutorial.

State certification came by 1 March 2014. By the second week of March, the government had approved Sharewood and its staff to enroll people for health insurance. The Massachusetts Health Connector web site also began listing them as Certified Application Counselors.

In addition to helping people enroll in health insurance, the clinic assesses each person’s medical needs upon arrival. First-year medical student working with a licensed doctor examine the patients. Case managers then follow up with people in the waiting area and ask if they need help with health insurance.

Prior to 2014, case managers helped people fill out paper applications and faxed them to Mass Health for affordable health insurance. After March 2014, case managers helped everyone, regardless of income, apply for health insurance online.

Elizabeth Moss, director of the Sharewood Project, said that the percentage of the health center’s population that needs help with insurance has significantly grown since January 1.

“Our case management population has grown to three out of every ten people. This represents 30 percent of our total population,” she said. “This shift in people needing services has occurred while the general population has not changed this winter.”

Moss said that the clinic received a steady flow of calls from people who saw its listing on the Mass Health Connector web site.

“People asked if they had to make an appointment or just walk in to the center for help,” she said. “People also inquired if they had to pay a fee for this service.”

Moss explained why they will register people past the April 15 deadline. “Some people will miss the health-insurance coverage deadline and still need consulting,” she said. “Other people, like immigrants and newly naturalized American citizens, will still need to apply for health insurance.”

Evengelia, a student at Tufts, pointed out that helping people apply for health insurance online was much faster than filling out paper forms.

“Filling out paper forms leaves room for errors,” she said. “Online applications are sent directly to be processed with little time to wait for a response.”

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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