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Monday, October 6, 2008

Her first one since childhood: Counselors for the uninsured

Francine Fitz, a 57-year-old Worcester widow who relied on the E.R. for routine health problems until she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, is one of the patients helped by counselors at the UMass Memorial Medical Center. The counselor, Heather Reddick, helped her enroll in subsidized health insurance. A telemarketer paid $10 an hour, Francine could not afford her employer's health plan, she said.

The counselor also helped her find a primary care doctor, her first one since childhood. The doctor works at a UMass health center and had just opened his practice to new patients, so Francine was able to get an appointment the next day.

Now, when she feels sick, she calls her doctor first, instead of heading to the E.R.

"I have never seen a doctor who calls me at home to make sure I'm OK," she says. "He even gives my children his private cell phone number, if they have a question."

A number of medical centers have added telephone help lines, counselors and social workers in their E.R.s to answer insurance questions, enroll uninsured people, and find them a primary care doctor. UMass Memorial Medical Center has gone further, sending counselors to laundromats, barber shops, farmers' markets, and churches. Armed with BlackBerries, portable scanners and laptops, they sign people up for insurance as well as food stamps, Social Security disability coverage, and other programs.

Advice to uninsured people in the E.R.: Ask the hospital what help they can give you in addition to treating your immediate medical problem.

Read another story about the new Massachusetts health coverage law.

Thanks to Kay Lazar for the source story in today's Boston Globe.

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