The Affordable Care Act is supporting a Consumer Assistance Program to help consumers in California who find it difficult to keep or use health insurance. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has introduced a new interactive map at www.healthcare.gov/consumerhelp to make sure consumers know how to contact their state Consumer Assistance Program.
“With www.healthcare.gov, we are putting the resources of the Affordable Care Act at the fingertips of consumers all across the country – and the new map is an important part of that effort,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Consumers no longer have to wonder where to turn when they have questions about their health insurance.”
The interactive Consumer Assistance Map went live in early February, as states around the country and U.S. territories are using federal grant dollars to establish or strengthen consumer assistance programs. California is one of 40 states or territories receiving grant funds.
Consumer Assistance Programs, run by state governments, sometimes in partnership with local nonprofit organizations, have trained caseworkers that can help consumers enroll in a health insurance plan or policy, or file a complaint or appeal with their insurer. They can also help consumers learn about the new insurance resources and reforms under the Affordable Care Act. Consumer Assistance Programs will also help explain the new consumer protections and options that will become available as additional parts of the health care law take effect in 2014.
In addition to helping consumers on an individual basis, the Consumer Assistance Program in California will track complaints to help identify potential trends in the health insurance market. Regulators can use this information to ensure that insurers are playing by the rules and consumers are receiving all their rights and protections under the law.
The interactive Consumer Assistance Program map is one of the ways the Affordable Care Act is bringing more openness to the health insurance market. The website includes information about the Affordable Care Act, a timeline of implementation and other resources. The website also includes the health insurance finder at wwwfinder.healthcare.gov, a first-of-its-kind site to bring information and links to health insurance plans into one place and make it easy for consumers to learn about and compare their insurance choices.
“Consumers across the country have new options and protections under the Affordable Care Act,” said Sebelius. “These tools will help empower consumers to get the health care and health coverage they and their families need.”
The Department of Managed Health Care, in partnership with the Office of the Patient Advocate in California, was awarded $3.4 million in October of 2010 to assist it in the performance the following activities:
• Develop and promote a coordinated consumer-friendly website and corresponding toll-free number that consumers can call with questions about health care coverage, and to receive assistance with the filing of complaints and appeals.
• Conduct a statewide media campaign, in partnership with consumer organizations, to educate consumers about their rights and responsibilities and to provide assistance with enrollment in group health plans or health insurance coverage.
• Evaluate the effectiveness of the initiatives, and collect, track and quantify consumer problems and inquiries for reporting to state and federal policymakers.