Mixing beer and health care: D.C. Health Link ramps up enrollment in final month

Feb 28, 2014, 12:47pm EST

Mixing beer and health care: D.C. Health Link ramps up enrollment in final month

Courtesy D.C. Health Link

D.C. Health Link outreach coordinator Kishan Putta and members of his team went ice staking in Southeast D.C.’s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood in February to raise visibility of D.C.’s health insurance marketplace. Enrollment ends March 31.

Tina Reed

Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

When these folks refer to IPAs, they’re probably normally talking about “in-person assisters.”

But with plans to hang out at bars during March Madness next month, the D.C. Health Link staff says it’ll doing everything it can — including mixing beer and health care — in the final month of enrollment through D.C.’s health insurance marketplace.

The big target? The last of the ever elusive "young invincibles" who are typically healthier, cheaper to cover and a central piece of making the new public health exchanges viable.

Earlier this month, D.C. Health Link reported reaching 26,180 signups since Oct. 1, up nearly 30 percent from the previous month. Of those, it said 37 percent of enrollees were between the ages of 26 and 34. The number of enrollees in the 35-to-44 age group grew to 21 percent, from 20 percent.

Those numbers have been hard fought.

For months, the D.C. health marketplace and its partners have gone hunting for 20- and 30-somethings in their supposed natural habitats. Next week, they’ll head to the Verizon Center for the D.C. high school basketball championships.

Expeditions in February included heading to the foodie haunt Union Market during a beer fest and to D.C.’s newest skating rink during Olympic fever. They’ve gone to shoe releases at certain stores and pubs during the Super Bowl.

“We’ll be in a meeting and I’ll say, ‘No, no. That’s not sexy enough.’” said Shyrea Thompson Robinson, an outreach coordinator for D.C. Health Link.

Sexy?

Yep.

"In-person assisters" have even gone to nightclubs and the local diners these young adults often frequent in the wee morning hours after a night out.

“You let them come to you,” Thompson Robinson explains. Wearing the D.C. Health Link T-shirts and promising free swag, they start taking the ubiquitous "selfies," showing they got covered.

“We’re the same demographic,” she said. “It becomes its own conversation piece.”

They’ve also headed to coffee shops to sign people up.

“It’s not a bad idea when you think about it,” said Kishan Putta, another outreach coordinator for D.C. Health Link. “A lot of people who are freelancers hang out and get work done at cafes. This is not just for the unemployed. This is for people who don’t get coverage through an employer.”

But it’d be so uncool to walk up and throw a laptop in people’s faces, begging them to sign up for health care, said Putta, who’s learned a thing or two about campaigning. Putta was an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative in Dupont Circle.

So a few weeks ago, his team set up a table in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood but spent much of its time heading out on the ice skating rink and warming up in nearby Park Tavern.

“We’re careful of not intruding on people’s space,” he said. “We’re just trying to get that visibility.”

They try to get contact information from those who say they are interested and if possible, try to set up appointments for them with assisters. The goal is to get them to actually finish the process and sign up for coverage.

“People get it and, if you can find [the people who don’t have coverage], they are interested,” Putta said. “Of course, you can’t have that whole conversation at the club. But you can do that first step.”

This weekend, Putta will head out to a place that’s decidedly less cool, but still definitely one of the best places he could think of to find people hanging out without much distraction.

Laundromats.

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