SARANAC LAKE - Representatives of Adirondack Medical Center and the Tri-Lakes Uninsured Task Force convened in Saranac Lake March 18 to kick-off National Cover the Uninsured Week, which runs through March 27.
AMC president and chief executive officer Chandler Ralph said the goal is to raise awareness about the challenges the uninsured face. And, as in past years, the Task Force wants to educate the community about the state and federal insurance programs that exist.
This year, Ralph hopes to inject a more personal and local feel into the week's events.
"I'm happy to say we're going to put a human face on this challenge that we have," Ralph said. "By doing so, we hope to make people feel more comfortable about stepping forward and saying 'Okay, I'm uninsured, I'd like to take advantage of the programs that are available.' That's really one of the main thrusts to Cover the Uninsured Week."
Two local residents stepped forward to share their stories. First, Ralph introduced Amber Jewtraw, a 21-year-old employed at a salon in Lake Placid. Jewtraw was dropped from her mother's health insurance when she turned 21. Her mother, an employee at AMC, referred her to the facilitated enrollment office, suggesting she explore the public programs for individuals in need of insurance.
Jewtraw is currently waiting to be approved, and said the enrollment process was straightforward.
"I just filled out some papers and that's pretty much it. Then, they sent them to the state and you get your results back," she said. "It's really easy."
Last year, the Task Force worked closely with small businesses in the Tri-Lakes to help offer insurance to employees through the Healthy New York or Family Health Plus programs.
"We're trying to encourage the local employers to learn more about state programs," Ralph said. "There are many very good options."
Cory Rothamel, owner of Blue Line Sports in Saranac Lake, took advantage of the services offered by the Task Force, and was able to enroll about 10 year-round employees in Healthy New York.
"It really was quite reasonable compared to some of the other plans that are out there," Rothamel said. "And, the coverage was quite impressive."
Tri-Lakes Uninsured Task Force coordinator Ann Morgan said the effort to reach out to people like Rothamel and Jewtraw is one of the most important roles the organization plays.
"We try to point people to the enrollment office at AMC," she said.
Two agencies - Upper Hudson Enrollment Services and Fidelis Care New York - staff the enrollment office five days a week.
"They're very accommodating - they'll even make house calls if necessary," Morgan said. "The real key is just getting the word out there to the community through the local media that this is the number, 897-2725; if you need health insurance, then call this number."
Next week's events include four Insurance Program Eligibility Screenings at area schools. Individuals, families and employers are urged to attend the screenings to learn whether or not they may be eligible for the state programs.