Darci Cole may be a familiar face to people living in northeastern Oklahoma.
A native Oklahoman, she grew up in Vinita and is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Known as “Mimi” to her seven grandchildren, Cole and her family live in the Tulsa area.
Cole, a longtime community outreach coordinator for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, is a lot like many of the people she serves. That kinship helps her understand the concerns of people looking for some help with plan options and enrollment questions as they look for 2021 health insurance coverage.
People searching for coverage can get to know Cole and her teammates by watching their video profiles. The insurer is hopeful all Oklahomans, no matter their race, age or ethnicity, will find connection with one of its nine outreach coordinators and reach out to them for information or enroll in a plan, even during the pandemic.
“Oklahoma is tight-knit, and people want to talk to someone they know."
Oklahomans can meet virtually with outreach coordinators to enroll in coverage to reduce threat of infection from the novel coronavirus. But they still can schedule in-person appointments. Safety measures for face-to-face meetings include masks, temperature checks and COVID-19 screenings.
Open enrollment to purchase marketplace coverage for individuals and their families began Nov. 1 and lasts through Dec. 15. Many may qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
People who are eligible for Medicare may select a Medicare Advantage plan until Dec. 7.
“We’re still able to connect and create that warm feeling and trust,” says Melissa Summar, communications consultant for the Mobile Assistance Center (MAC) team. “Oklahoma is tight-knit, and people want to talk to someone they know, especially in rural and smaller towns. They can find someone they can connect to. Everyone on the MAC team lives in Oklahoma and can help anyone in Oklahoma.”
Building trust and connection always has been key to BCBSOK’s enrollment efforts. This year, outreach coordinators have adjusted to the pandemic by holding online seminars and virtual one-on-one appointments, as well as engaging with people using Facebook and Twitter. They still reach out to those who want to communicate by phone or mail, too.
Finding new ways to engage
Before the pandemic, Oklahoma already had the second-highest rate of uninsured residents nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. An estimated 572,000 Oklahomans — about 14.3% of the state population — lack health insurance.
Meantime, as many as 27 million people across the country are at risk of losing their employer-sponsored health coverage as the outbreak continues to disrupt to economy and leads to job losses, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports.
Get information about plans
Those losing job-based coverage are eligible to enroll in coverage outside the annual open enrollment period.
Health risks associated with COVID-19 are prompting people to reach out and explore their insurance options. People who lost jobs — and their health insurance — may need help selecting plans. Others who have gone without coverage are searching for plans in case they get sick.
As Oklahoma’s reported COVID-19 cases rose during the summer, outreach coordinators began tweaking plans for open enrollment and incorporating online engagement efforts, including the MAC team video profiles. They wanted to provide online coverage education and enrollment options in case in-person meetings weren't possible.
Need help from someone who speaks Spanish? Watch Emma Krummich as she explains in Spanish how she can assist you.
“I’m here to help Oklahomans to better understand the coverage options that meet the needs of their family,” she says. “The enrollment process online can be confusing and I’m here to help walk them through the process in both Spanish and English.”
After watching the videos, people can schedule one-on-one appointments with the outreach coordinator with whom they feel most comfortable.
“It’s so hard right now because everyone is so disconnected from each other,” Summar says. “It’s really important for us to put a face with a name, so people can speak to someone who understands them. We have a great, diverse group of people who can ensure families have access to what they need.”