Lauren Banks from AIDS Alabama talks about the ACA

| October 25, 2013

photo (2)Read this great interview with Lauren Banks from AIDS Alabama by AIDS United. The interview was published in AU’s weekly newsletter.  Lauren discusses the role AIDS Alabama has taken on with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Alabama. She explains several of the issues being faced in Alabama since they are not expanding Medicaid, and what advocacy steps AIDS Alabama will be taking to address the non-expansion issue.

Since becoming law, the Affordable Care Act has directly helped many of AIDS United’s community-based stakeholder organizations to increase and improve services for the clients they serve. AIDS Alabama, for instance, an AIDS United grantee and Public Policy Committee (PPC) Member, was recently awarded a Patient Navigator Grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help the uninsured in the community navigate Alabama’s new insurance marketplace, which, along with all of the insurance marketplaces around the country, launched on October 1. Lauren Banks, the organization’s Policy and Advocacy Director, spoke with us about its new program funded by its Patient Navigator Grant, the difficulties of implementing the Affordable Care Act in Alabama, and much more.

As part of the grant, AIDS Alabama developed “Enroll Alabama”, which includes forming partnerships with seven other sites and hiring 10 new staff members. Patient Navigators work to answers questions about the Affordable Care Act and guide uninsured individuals through the process of choosing a plan and enrolling in it. Eighty volunteer navigators also support the work of the 10 new staff members, evidence of a huge positive response from the community.

“People in Alabama want this to succeed, they realize how important it is,” says Banks. To gain further support, Enroll Alabama will be attending numerous community events beginning in November, spreading the word about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

It has been a little over a week since the insurance exchanges opened nationwide to a flurry of excitement, as well as a few glitches on the websites. Enroll Alabama expected some glitches and was prepared with solutions. For instance, staff and volunteers use paper applications when the website is having difficulties. An official “grand opening” launch of Enroll Alabama is planned for the first weekend of November, at which point all website issues are expected to be resolved. Despite the occasional glitch, news coverage and community response have been extremely positive. Enroll Alabama hopes to hit its goal of enrolling 5,000 uninsured individuals.

As an AIDS Service Organization, AIDS Alabama is especially conscious of the HIV community in its approach to enrollment. The navigators at Enroll Alabama will help HIV positive clients make sure that plans cover their providers, their medications, and will educate them about which services will be available through insurance and which will be available through the Ryan White Program. Enroll Alabama will work with case managers to help people living with HIV make the decisions that ensure they have access to quality HIV treatment so that none fall out of care as they access the new care system(s) for which they are eligible.

While Alabama residents will benefit from the insurance reform component of the Affordable Care Act, Alabama is one of many states that is not yet expanding Medicaid, denying many poor people the insurance that the Affordable Care Act was meant to provide. Alabama is the state with one of the lowest thresholds and strictest requirements for Medicaid qualification, and not expanding means that many of the most impoverished are going to be left out, according to Banks. Worse, she says, “a lot of them don’t know they’re going to be left out.” With this in mind Enroll Alabama’s message has been strategic, working to drum up excitement but not get people’s hopes up.

The ”deep south” is bearing a disproportionate burden of new HIV cases in the United States, according to Banks. With the exception of Arkansas none of those states are expanding Medicaid, which will only serve to further increase the health disparities between the South and many other states. In Alabama, for instance, a whopping 75.7% of AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) clients would be eligible for Medicaid if the program were expanded. ADAP is part of the Ryan White Program, which is the payer of last resort for HIV positive individuals who are poor and need care and treatment. For people in those non-Medicaid expansion states living with HIV, Banks says it is critical to advocate for expansion. For residents of Alabama, AIDS Alabama will be hosting a series of advocacy workshops on different topics in the spring, including Medicaid expansion.

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