First published in Landings, May, 2017
Guiding people through the process of applying for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not the easiest job. Everything related to the ACA is complex, and it takes time and a great deal of patience to help a person complete the process. Alisha Keezer, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association health insurance Navigator, has been on the job slightly more than two years and, with the help of Fishing Partnership Support Services of Massachusetts, has assisted more than 900 individuals with health insurance information and more than 560 people to gain health insurance.
In fact, Keezer has been so successful reaching out to Maine’s fishermen that she has been selected as a Navigator mentor by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), one of just eight such designations in the country.
Since the ACA came into force in 2013, the MLA has used a variety of outreach methods to get information about the health insurance program, its benefits and its penalties to Maine’s fishermen, many of whom live in remote coastal communities. That ability — to reach out to and communicate with a generally rural population — is what Keezer will be helping two other Navigator organizations develop. “Basically, I will work with the organizations over four months to help them achieve their outreach goals,” Keezer said. She is mentoring the Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina and Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, Missouri. “They are having problems reaching their special populations,” Keezer said, specifically addicted people in North Carolina and young adults not in college in St. Louis.
The MLA drew on a variety of communications techniques specifically tailored to the state’s 5,000 lobstermen. Those techniques reflected the culture of lobstering. “Many lobstermen aren’t available during typical office hours,” Keezer explained, “so I got in touch with them when they were home, like on the weekends or at night.” Lobstermen, like many small business owners, are extremely aware of where every nickel goes so Keezer emphasized in her messages the tax penalties embedded in the ACA for those who do not sign up for health insurance. She also stressed how affordable health insurance could be for a younger lobsterman. “I took the lowest premium for a Bronze plan in each coastal county for a guy under 30 and put it on a postcard. We sent that out saying, ‘Do you know how little health insurance would cost you? That got their attention,” she said. She also made sure that information posted through Facebook made clear that the MLA was ready to help any fisherman apply for health insurance at no cost to themselves.
As a Navigator mentor, Keezer confers with staff at the two organizations through a conference call each month and with other Navigator mentors once a month as well. “These calls have gone surprisingly well. We talk about various ways that might work with their populations. It’s important to seek people out rather than to wait for them to contact you,” Keezer said. She partnered with the Knox County Health Clinic, for example, to let lobstermen from midcoast communities know she could meet with them in a central location familiar to them.
In June Keezer and three other Navigator mentors will be presenting a summary of their outreach efforts at an ACA summit in Maryland. “It’s all about knowing how to communicate the information and how to use social media,” Keezer said. “And just having some good ideas!”