NPCC 1 of 7 schools to assist state, train health care guides

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published May 19, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2013 at 11:37 a.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Kelli Albrecht, the director of Workforce Development at National Park Community College in Hot Springs, has lots of work ahead after the state’s insurance department signed a contract with Arkansas’ two-year colleges to train 537 people to help Arkansans who qualify for the expanding government-subsidized health care plan.

— At the last minute, the 2013 session of the Arkansas Legislature created the Health Insurance Marketplace, a private insurance option for expanding government-subsidized health care coverage to more than 250,000 additional Arkansas residents.

Starting in the fall, special health care guides will gather in libraries and with civic clubs and even go door to door to spread the word about the new plan available under the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that will begin in January.

The Arkansas Insurance Department has signed a contract with the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges Workforce Training Consortium to train at least 537 of these “in-person assisters” to inform almost a half-million Arkansans who qualify for the program about the variety of new insurance options available.

The job of training those insurance guides has been assigned to seven community colleges across the state, including National Park Community College in Hot Springs.

“The grant enables us to train numerous people who will help consumers understand their choices from the plans offered by the state’s insurance marketplace,” said Kelli Albrecht, director of Workforce Development at NPCC. “We are excited to act as a lead institution on this project.”

However, time is short, and the curriculum for the training program must be developed, and the school has yet to receive all the details. Yet, Albrecht said, plans are to have at least 537 guides trained and in the field as early as June with enrollment starting on Oct. 1.

“It seems we are build-

ing the plane while it’s already in the air,” said Edward Franklin, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges. “But we have done this before where

a business will come in and ask that we train a large number of people by their standards in a short period of time. This is just on a broader scale.”

“The Arkansas Insurance Department is offering a framework to build on for the program,” Albrecht said. “These will probably be people with no health care background that will train about the features of the Affordable Care Act, basic insurance information and customer service.”

A recent meeting between the state Insurance Department and the Two-Year College Association worked out the “nuts and bolts” of the training, Albrecht said.

Cindy Crone, director of the Arkansas Insurance Department Health Benefits Exchange Partnership, said the program will be in three phases.

“The first will start in June and will be a module taught in the classroom,” she said. “It will be an outreach to the community to tell them about the exchange and the plans involved.”

The second phase of the training for the prospective guides looking to earn a license to be an exchange guide will be handled by the federal government and will probably be available online.

“The school will not be involved in that phase of the training,” Crone said.

The final phase will be Arkansas specific and will contain modules for guides, those who help Arkansas residents to fill out the applications, and for insurance agents and brokers in the state, Crone said.

During the training, students will be tested to earn the licenses created in the legislation passed at the end of the session.

Albrecht and others on the NPCC workforce training team, working with other faculty at the school, will concentrate on the first phase of the training program — the introduction.

The other community colleges chosen as lead schools will take the lead on other modules of the training program.

The six other schools designated to take part in the program are Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock, Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, North Arkansas College in Harrison, Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas in DeQueen, East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City and South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado.

Meanwhile, the teams will explore to see if training would be best with traditional classroom instruction, online teaching or a hybrid approach using technology to connect trainers and the prospective guides for the different segments.

“We were told the training would need to be completed in three days, and we thought we would need as long as five days,” Albrecht said. “Now having become more familiar with the program, we think it can be done in three days.”

Albrecht said a major concern for the developers of the training program will be teaching the guides not to advise residents on which health program to choose.

“I have worked in human resources and explained insurance options to people,” she said. “Most of the time, when I’m done, people ask, ‘So what should I do?’ The guides cannot tell them. The decision is up to the consumer.”

Crone was even more direct that guides cannot give advice.

“These people will be trained. They will be tested, licensed and sign statements that they cannot give advice to their clients about the plan they choose,” she said. “They will lose their license if they do. Only a licensed insurance agent can do that.”

Even after the training program is crafted, Franklin said, there will still be changes to meet the needs of state residents.

“The training must be translated into Spanish and Marshallese,” he said. “Some of the in-class training will be videoed so it can eventually be available online.”

Franklin said he is proud that the community colleges were called on to develop the training program.

“We had the people who could do the job, and it probably will help many of our students,” he said. “They are usually low-income, often with families and often out of work. This will be a big help for them.”

The creation of the exchange in Arkansas and the public option has captured the attention of other states

as a possible blueprint for their own approach to dealing with the Affordable Care Act.

Albrecht said those working on the program are aware that they are creating a new level within the insurance industry.

“We all understand that Florida, Oklahoma and other states are watching us closely,” she said. “It would be great to see our work used all over the country. It is an exciting time with new programs unfolding. I just tell people we need to be flexible.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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