With the deadline to enroll in federal and state marketplaces (for coverage beginning January 1, 2014) approaching on December 23rd, we know that our partners are working tirelessly to reach out to and enroll consumers in health coverage.  In recognition of this important and historical moment, this blog is part of a series to bring attention to innovative outreach and enrollment strategies around the country. We hope that Outreach Lessons from the States, which will share a new strategy every day this week, will energize our partners and inspire creative outreach practices for reaching consumers as ACA enrollment continues

New Jersey has started an innovative approach to reach uninsured residents – hiring Veterans as enrollment assisters. A team of 25 former U.S. servicemen and women are in the process of being hired and trained to assist consumers as they navigate their health insurance options as part of the Marketplace. Once the veterans have completed an online training they can serve as Certified Application Counselors (CACs), and will visit hospitals and community sites to engage consumers.

These veterans bring a wealth of experience and diversity to the effort. Besides their military service experience, they come from varied professional and cultural backgrounds. Many of them are bilingual and add to the enrollment assistor language capacity across the state.

Funding for this effort comes from the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), which received a $1.8 million grant from New Jersey Health Initiatives, a local funding arm of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The NJHA partnered with the New Jersey for Health Care Coalition and others to coordinate outreach and enrollment activities around the state. According to Maura Collinsgru of New Jersey Citizen Action, a member organization of New Jersey for Health Care Coalition, “We are excited to be working with Veterans and have them as a resource to help our residents connect to coverage.”

This effort has double appeal – assisting consumers in understanding the complex health coverage options, and re-engaging Veterans in a tough job market. As NJHA President and CEO Betsy Ryan put it in their press release, “This is a wonderful example of a boots-on-the-ground program that can make a real difference in the lives of the veterans who secure good jobs, and the uninsured individuals and families they will help access healthcare coverage.”