Humana Invites Mississippians Onto The Health Care Bus

The state of Mississippi has not endorsed the Affordable Care Act. Yet insurers need people to sign up to make their business work. Concerned about lagging numbers, Humana outfitted a bus with internet and computers to drive around the state to enrolling people.

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Mississippi is one of those states with a large number of uninsured, yet only a fraction of people have signed up for coverage. Some of the problems are related to the website, but it's also been a challenge to just get the word out. So, to get people onboard, one insurance company decided to take enrollment on the road. Jeffrey Hess with Mississippi Public Broadcasting reports on the insurance buses now rolling across the state.

JEFFREY HESS, BYLINE: Nonprofit groups and insurers are hosting a growing number of outreach events statewide to sign Mississippians up for plans. One of the two insurance companies selling exchange plans in the state, Humana has launched two specially equipped busses that have Internet access and agents on board who can fully enroll Mississippians. Standing beside one bus, Humana's Stacey Carter says the goal is to generate grassroots interest in the exchange.

STACEY CARTER: We will be at Wal-Marts. At some CVSes in the first quarter. We will be at gas stations. And we are working on some churches as well.

HESS: Carter says Mississippi is the only state where the company's using them. And since healthcare.gov has been mired in problems, it's the first opportunity for Mississippians to look at the plans that they can purchase on the exchange. Lonnie Ross is an uninsured Jackson resident with a wife and three children. He says he spent the last 15 years without insurance and was surprised he could afford the monthly premiums.

LONNIE ROSS: I am kind of excited. I was right in my range - $150 to $200. So, that's pretty good. And it's a possibility it could be better. As I get to the point of signing up, the subsidy could even be a little bit higher.

HESS: One hundred miles away the southwest Mississippi town of Natchez, Marie Dillon was one of about two dozen people who boarded the bus the day it rolled through. She found out that she can qualify for insurance that will cover the medicine for her chronic lung condition, medicine she's been skipping for the last year.

MARIE DILLON: I mean, just based on my medical condition, they wanted, like, over 500-some dollars a month to get medical insurance. But, I mean, with this one, it's going to cost me, like, about, anywhere between 25 to 50 bucks a month.

HESS: The deadline to enroll for coverage to begin at the start of 2014 falls on December 23rd. Morgan Miller is with Cover Mississippi, a nonprofit organizing outreach statewide including events with Humana. She says they waited until closer to that deadline to gear up their efforts.

MORGAN MILLER: We're noticing that more grassroots on the ground in really small communities has been very beneficial for us. This is our push to try as we try to encourage as many people to enroll. And also our primary goal right now is education.

HESS: They have a long way to go. As of the end of October, only about 8,000 people had signed up on the exchange out of the 275,000 who are eligible. For NPR News, I'm Jeffrey Hess in Jackson, Mississippi.

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