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Hilltown Community Health Center gears up for federal health care reforms

As reforms from the federal Affordable Care Act fall into place, the Hilltown Community Health Center in Huntington is working with the Massachusetts Health Connector to provide information and assistance to hilltown residents on securing their health care.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Health Care Connector and the Hilltown Community Health Center, held an informational meeting Friday at the Health Center’s Huntington location to explain how the partnership will work.

According to Jen Yang, executive director of the Health Connector, people in the state who are currently covered by Commonwealth Care will have to re-enroll with the Health Connector before Jan.1 if they want to maintain their health coverage.

An open enrollment is under way until March 31, 2014.

“The reenrollment process is not difficult, it will just be challenging for us to reach a lot of people in a very short amount of time,” Yang said. “By the end of this year, Commonwealth Care will end so we need to get to as many people as we can and make sure they remain covered.”

Edward Sayer, executive director of the HCHC, said the Health Center will operate as a “Navigator site” by conducting outreach initiatives, and public information sessions on health care for individuals, families and small businesses.

As part of the ACA reforms, Navigator sites will operate in all 50 states.

In July, the HCHC was selected to be one of 10 Navigator sites across Massachusetts. The center also received a grant award of $48,000 to implement the program.

“We were thrilled to be selected,” said Eliza Lake, HCHC grant writer and community programs director. “We are one of only three sites chosen in western Mass,” she said.

The other two sites are Ecu-Health Center, located in North Adams and the Caring Health Center in Springfield.

“At this health center, five of us are trained Navigators and certified by the state,” Lake said.

At Friday’s meeting, state Rep. Steven Kulik said he was pleased to see western Massachusetts receiving this kind of support from the state.

“It is often a battle in western Mass to get people the services they need,” Kulik said. “This attention to the hilltowns is very important and very necessary as the needs in rural communities are often more challenging than urban and suburban areas, “ he said.

Lake agreed, noting that most of the hilltowns do not have access to Broadband internet.

The HCHC serves roughly 8,000 people in 11 towns.

To reach out to as many people as possible, HCHC Navigators will meet with people at the health center, at their homes or at a common location in the community.

“Your role is extremely critical,” Yang told representatives of the HCHC. “This is where people seek care and we need to make sure to minimize their disruption of coverage,” she said.

In Massachusetts, about 98 percent of the population has health care coverage.

“Our state has set the bar very high for the rest of the country,” Sayer said.

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