Partnering to promote the Affordable Care Act

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Collaboration may be the key to getting the Affordable Care Act working more efficiently on the ground, some healthcare unions believe. That's why AFT Healthcare affiliates are partnering with healthcare groups to educate their communities about the ACA.

In December, the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) co-sponsored an ACA forum, called "Cover Camden," with the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Cooper University Health Care, New Jersey Citizen Action, the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, and Camden Churches Organized for People. HPAE represents nurses at Cooper University Health Care in Camden, N.J.

More than 100 Camden residents, community leaders and health professionals attended the event, where they learned about the ACA and received help signing up for health coverage.

HPAE and Cooper University Health Care have collaborated in the past around safe patient handling programs, which have reduced injury rates for patients and workers alike, and violence prevention measures to ensure the safety of Cooper's patients, their families and workers. "As health providers, I believe it is our duty to advocate for our patients, not just at the bedside but in our communities, statehouse and federal government. HPAE and our nurses take that role very seriously. To do so with the aim of improving the lives of our patients, and in a coalition like this, is an honor, not just an obligation," says Ann Twomey, HPAE's president and an AFT vice president.

The Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) held a similar event for the residents of Columbus, Ohio, last month. The event, "The Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion and You," featured state legislators, state Sen. Capri Cafaro and state Rep. Michael Stinziano. The event was co-sponsored by the Universal Health Care Action Network Ohio and Seniority Benefit Group.

"We created the event in an effort to educate the public about the ACA and the recent Medicaid expansion in Ohio before the December 23rd sign-up deadline," says Molly Ackley, the ONA's communications director. "One of our goals as an organization is to really get involved with our community, and we thought this would be a great fit. Nurses are on the frontlines of healthcare, and it seems right to be on the forefront of healthcare education, too."

"Nurses are trusted by the public and it's important for nurses and the public to have the correct information about what's in the law," says Tiffany Wenter, ONA's director of health policy.

Participants came out to hear about the ins and outs of the new law and how Medicaid expansion in the state could impact them. Attendees were also offered free basic health screenings from ONA members.

During the event, Sen. Cafaro took a moment to speak about the law in general, comparing its imperfections to those that Social Security and Medicare faced when they were first unveiled. The senator emphasized the need to be patient, noting that it takes time to fine-tune something new. In the meantime,she said, the focus should be on the law's benefits and promises, such as free preventative care and coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

During the event in New Jersey, HPAE's Ann Twomey also emphasized the benefits of the ACA. "We all have seen the challenges of healthcare.gov in its early stages, but we've already seen the opportunities of the ACA. If the ACA is going to succeed, it will take everyone—providers, advocates and patients—coming together. This is about connecting community leaders to hospitals to nurses, all for the benefit of our patients. It's about putting care first."

[Adrienne Coles]

Jan. 22, 2014