Ms. Whitcomb Slemmer Goes To Washington… And Meets With Secretary Sebelius

Yesterday, HCFA Executive Director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer met with USHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss the role consumer advocacy groups will play in states during the implementation of national health care reform. HCFA along with nine other consumer advocacy groups from across the country gathered for the meeting in Washington. They offered their experience and suggestions on how to educate consumers about their new coverage options.

HCFA stressed that during the implementation of Massachusetts’ health care reform, community outreach and consumer education programs were critical parts of the law’s overall success. We also suggested that consumer resources like HCFA’s HelpLine, which provides direct assistance to consumers in three different languages, should serve as a model for direct consumer assistance groups in other states.

And we are not alone in that belief.

Just last month, HCFA’s HelpLine was awarded grant funding by the federal government for its work to assist, enroll and educate hundreds of thousands of consumers each year. In the last month alone, our HelpLine received over 3,000 calls – a 40% increase over last year. And with the implementation of national reform around the corner, our HelpLine will continue to be a key resource for consumers who need help navigating changes to the system. HCFA’s HelpLine counselors also provide an important feedback loop for policy makers. With their ears to the ground each and every day, our counselors are able to understand and report to policy makers what is and isn’t working with the current system.

HCFA also recommended that states looking to set up health insurance exchanges follow the model of Massachusetts’ Connector Board. As an independent state agency dedicated exclusively to helping residents obtain health coverage, The Connector has been another critical resource for consumers.

We thank the Secretary for listening to our suggestions and fellow consumer advocates Rob Restuccia, Executive Director of Community Catalyst; Ron Pollack of Families USA; Anne Dunkelberg of the Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities; Anthony Wright of Health Access California; Liz Doyle of Take Action Minnesota; Evelyn Liebman of New Jersey Citizen Action; Cathy Levine of UHCAN Ohio; and Laura Goodhue of Florida CHAIN, for their thoughtful contributions on behalf of consumers.
-Victoria Bonney

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