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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Barriers to Homeless Persons Acquiring Health Insurance Through the Affordable Care Act

Lauren R Fryling, Peter Mazanec, Robert M Rodriguez
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2015, 49 (5): 755-62.e2
26281811

BACKGROUND: Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is intended to provide a framework for increasing health care access for vulnerable populations, including the 1.2 million who experience homelessness each year in the United States.

OBJECTIVE: We sought to characterize homeless persons' knowledge of the ACA, identify barriers to their ACA enrollment, and determine access to various forms of communication that could be used to facilitate enrollment.

METHODS: At an urban county Level I trauma center, we interviewed all noncritically ill adults who presented to the emergency department (ED) during daytime hours and were able to provide consent. We assessed access to communication, awareness of the ACA, insurance status, and barriers preventing subjects from enrolling in health insurance and compared homeless persons' responses with concomitantly enrolled housed individuals.

RESULTS: Of the 650 enrolled subjects, 134 (20.2%) were homeless. Homeless subjects were more likely to have never heard of the ACA (26% vs. 10%). "Not being aware if they qualify for Medicaid" was the most common (70%) and most significant (30%) barrier to enrollment reported by uninsured homeless persons. Of homeless subjects who were unsure if they qualified for Medicaid, 91% reported an income < 138% of the federal poverty level, likely qualifying them for enrollment. Although 99% of housed subjects reported access to either phone or internet, only 74% of homeless subjects reported access.

CONCLUSIONS: Homeless persons report having less knowledge of the ACA than their housed counterparts, poor understanding of ACA qualification criteria, and limited access to phone and internet. ED-based outreach and education regarding ACA eligibility may increase their enrollment.

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