With enrollment around the corner, states have begun to think about the help consumers will need to enroll in coverage. The state of Rhode Island has selected the Rhode Island Parent Information Network (RIPIN), a well-respected non-profit in Rhode Island to set up the state’s consumer assistance program (CAP). Rhode Island’s Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner was one of the state agencies that received federal funding through this summer’s round of grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. This partnership also provides an opportunity for Community Catalyst to collaborate with state advocates on enrollment and outreach efforts.

The state’s decision to contract a known and trusted community-based organization will have a tremendous impact on the accessibility of outreach and enrollment efforts. RIPIN works with individuals, parents, and families on access and service issues primarily for children with special health care needs. A strong presence in the community is critical in providing support for those who are already covered as well as reaching out to newly eligible consumers; organizations with strong ties in the community are essential in this process. RIPIN’s existing community partnerships, which span many regional and demographic categories, will be an asset in their consumer assistance work. RIPIN’s connection to the community allows the organization to serve as the “go-to” source for individuals and families who might not otherwise seek assistance with health coverage questions.

Consumer assistance programs provide one-on-one assistance to educate individuals about their health care options, facilitate enrollment, maintain coverage, and troubleshoot problems that may arise. As part of this new program RIPIN has launched a consumer assistance help line,1-855-RI-REACH, which will assist consumers in understanding how their insurance works, what their health coverage options are and how to enroll in coverage.

We at the New England Alliance for Children’s Health (NEACH) are very excited the state chose to partner with a consumer-focused non-profit to carry out this work. As trusted, local sources of information on health care, non-profit organizations such as RIPIN are well-positioned to offer consumer assistance. Community Catalyst will provide technical assistance and policy support in establishing the program.

As states prepare to enroll more than 32 million newly eligible consumers and help them navigate the insurance system, consumer assistance programs will be essential in providing the information, tools and resources individuals need to make informed health care decisions for themselves and their families. Rhode Island sets a great example for setting up these programs by involving community-based non-profits. States play a critical role in enrollment and outreach. The timing couldn’t be better to launch RI REACH.

— Chiedza Mufunde, Intern New England Alliance for Children’s Health