Service Employees International Union Bypasses Health Care Website To Reach Uninsured
By Andy Sullivan WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) - As the Obama administration scrambles to fix a balky healthcare website that has frustrated millions of Americans, one of the nation's largest unions is trying to persuade hundreds of thousands of uninsured people to begin signing up for health coverage by phone and on paper. The Service Employees International Union, which represents about 2.1 million workers, is working in 23 communities across the United States to help its members and others sign up for insurance under the law known as "Obamacare," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry told the Reuters Summit this week. She described a massive outreach effort that could wind up as a crucial backstop in the troubled rollout of one of the most ambitious social safety-net programs since the 1960s. The Obama administration hopes to sign up at least 7 million Americans before a March 2014 deadline, and is counting on allies such as the SEIU for help in reaching the 25 million Americans who would qualify for benefits. Henry said the glitches plaguing the healthcare.gov website have not been much of a factor in her union's efforts so far. At county fairs and inner-city farmers' markets, and through door-to-door canvassing, the union has found that most of those who would benefit from the law generally are not ready to sign up because they first need to learn how it works, Henry said on Tuesday. "The website is an issue, but in our experience it's not really the way people are choosing to enroll," Henry said. "It's sort of like buying a car, or assessing car insurance. People check in with their family, friends or neighbors in order to navigate a system that they have no experience with," she said. The SEIU, which represents healthcare, building-services and public-sector workers, has trained hundreds of union members to explain the law's benefits to families, friends, neighbors or people they meet at health fairs, she said. Some 300,000 of the union's workers who currently lack insurance could benefit from the law, either through an expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Americans or through subsidized private insurance, Henry said. The administration set up its website to enable uninsured Americans to easily find healthcare options and prices, but the site has been plagued by technical problems since its launch on Oct. 1.
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