Information, Please

Some fifteen-hundred Vineyarders soon will find themselves with virtually useless medical insurance. These are people on low incomes with no employer health insurance, many working multiple low-wage jobs that leave precious little time for navigating complicated bureaucratic insurance matters.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital intends to drop its deal with the Boston Medical Center HealthNet Program on July first. This is the program many Islanders took up when health insurance became mandatory in the state; part of Commonwealth Care, it provides health coverage to people struggling to meet the cost of living. The hospital’s switch to a different Commonwealth Care insurer, Network Health, has many primary care and specialist doctors necessarily following suit. So, whether for serious surgery or simply a case of allergic sneezes, many Islanders will need new medical insurance.

The Vineyard hospital makes its case for the change; a new deal with Network Health will make it easier to refer patients to its preferred, now-partner hospitals in Boston. Whether this is for business or quality of care reasons, or both, is beside the point. The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, whose plans may leave these Islanders stranded, has offered them little information.

It is incumbent upon the hospital, the Goliath among all Island health care providers, to be openly and actively communicating its plans to Island health care consumers. The hospital must extend its expertise to the public, helping Islanders manage the effects of its decision. The hospital could play a helpful role during this change by providing Islanders the necessary forms to change insurers, a hotline for help filling them out, and personal after-hours assistance.

Beyond the hassles ahead for consumers, there is a danger they will be left, through no fault of their own, with no coverage accepted by local providers. Since learning of the change from a recent story in the Gazette, some patients have sought to switch insurers. But they have been stymied by limited time periods for enrollment.

Meanwhile, the tiny program trying to help consumers through the insurance maze, Vineyard Health Care Access, has struggled to obtain clear information for Islanders even while struggling to stay open, as state budget cuts and shrinking grants leave the program short-staffed almost to breaking point. Transparent in communication and in funding, this small outfit is providing a critical service. It is one that Islanders have shown repeatedly they value; four Island towns backed funding for the program at annual town meetings last week. Voters noted that this funding, now approved two years running, might properly be added to the budget rather than as a separate, more vulnerable warrant item year after year.

It’s a sensible suggestion that could add some vital stability to Health Care Access.