New Mapping Tools Help Identify Uninsured Patients, Insurance Exchange Info

October 23, 2013 01:40 pm Jennifer Lubell

Two new interactive mapping tools aim to make information about uninsured patients and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act coverage options more accessible to policymakers, family physicians and other health care professionals.

According to Amber Melaney, the AAFP's state government relations strategist, the Academy has received numerous questions from members on how they can track the number of people who gain insurance through the state exchange in their area. Family physicians now can use the new Uninsurance Explorer(www.udsmapper.org) and the ACA Mapper(www.healthlandscape.org) conjointly to find answers to those questions.

By accessing the Uninsurance Explorer, which shows small-area estimates of uninsured populations at different income levels, family physicians can get an idea of the number of people eligible for insurance in their specific geographic area. Once they have this information, they can use the ACA Mapper to become more familiar with resources in their state, said Melaney.

Both of the tools were built on the HealthLandscape platform(www.healthlandscape.org), an interactive mapping resource whose partners include the AAFP, the AAFP's Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, and Interact For Health, an independent foundation based in Cincinnati. The Uninsurance Explorer is part of the Robert Graham Center's Uniform Data System (UDS) Mapper application, which launched Aug. 22. The UDS Mapper requires registration to access the free site. A guide for using the Uninsurance Explorer(www.udsmapper.org) is available on the website.

The ACA Mapper went live Oct.1. This interactive map provides links to each state's Medicaid, insurance exchange and navigator websites, as well as a link to the local AFP chapter. According to Jennifer Rankin, Ph.D., the Robert Graham Center's UDS project manager and health geographer, "It's the only website of its kind that combines all of that information and makes it readily available."

Although it's primarily geared toward health centers to help facilitate Affordable Care Act enrollment and outreach, family physicians also could find the ACA Mapper useful, "to better understand the patients that are coming to them, whether they're in areas with high uninsurance or in areas that are high uninsurance and Medicaid eligible, or high uninsurance and subsidy eligible," Rankin said.

For example, family physicians in a state that expanded Medicaid could look up maps that focus on areas where much of the population's income is at 138 percent of the federal poverty level. These populations are newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Maps in non-expansion states would show which populations might be eligible for federal tax credits in the state insurance exchanges. As the user guide for the mapping tool explains, individuals with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of poverty could qualify for the subsidies, whereas those with incomes below 100 percent might not be eligible.

Although the AAFP funded the ACA Mapper, the Uninsurance Explorer was paid for by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). The two organizations had a vested interest in developing such a tool.

"Health centers need data to effectively target their community outreach and enrollment efforts. And even more important, they need maps to help pinpoint exactly where they should focus," said NACHC spokesperson Amy Simmons. The Robert Graham Center's UDS Mapper was already a well-known tool for health center planning purposes, "and the Uninsurance Explorer allowed us to visually display small geographic areas where the high rates of uninsured people are," she added.

Simmons said the NACHC has yet to collect any official feedback on the tool, but its members are using it, and so far, the response has been favorable.


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