It's tough to convince people to enroll for coverage on a website that doesn't work.
This is a problem that Enroll America—the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to maximizing enrollment of uninsured Americans through Obamacare—has faced over the past month and a half, following the problematic launch of the federal exchange website. Yet the organization remains optimistic.
"With the disappointing rollout of HealthCare.gov, it's become clearer our role on the ground has never been more important," said Enroll America President Anne Filipic on a press call Tuesday.
The organization has a nationwide staff of 200 employees, with three-quarters of them working on the ground in 10 states. These have been identified as states with fewer resources dedicated to Obamacare outreach—primarily states that are not running their own exchanges or expanding Medicaid. Tennessee will be added as an 11th state.
Enroll America has focused on outreach more than enrollment thus far, given that the federal exchange website is still not fully functional. This means continuing to identify and contact uninsured and underinsured individuals, and helping them understand new coverage options. Follow-ups and actual enrollments will come in the beginning of December, when the administration has said the site will be operating smoothly for the vast majority of users.
"Looking forward, we realize there's an important window where there is a combination of increased interest, a working website, and a coming deadline," said John Gilbert, national field director at Enroll America. "There's going to be a finite amount of time to build that interest into action."
According to Gilbert, Enroll America has reached out to more than 300,000 consumers, had substantive conversations with 60,000 of those, and identified more than 30,000 as uninsured or underinsured and very interested in enrolling through the exchanges.
Enroll America did not provide information on the number who have actually enrolled, as they haven't conducted follow-ups while the site is being fixed.
There have been promising signs for the organization, despite the website problems. According to Filipic, consumer outreach has more than doubled from August to October, and doubled again since Oct. 1. There are now more than 10,000 volunteers, with more than half of those joining since Oct. 1. The organization has raised more than $27 million since March 2013, on top of the $5 million it raised in 2011 and 2012.
While there is a heavy focus on HealthCare.gov enrollment numbers set to be released by CMS this week, Enroll America's emphasis remains on the number it reaches. "For our organization, [the key] is identifying people, engaging them, and bringing them to places where enrollment can happen," Gilbert said. "For that metric we can easily control and track, we feel good."
"[Our goal] is reaching those consumers who didn't visit HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1 or aren't aware there is a website," Filipic added. "We're reaching those needles in the haystack who wouldn't get the information without an in-person presence."