Q&A: Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s Connie Liu on increasing health insurance navigation services – State of Reform

Connie Liu is the Community Engagement Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaiii, one of Hawaii’s oldest nonprofit civil law firms. With 11 offices statewide, the Legal Aid Society provides comprehensive services including legal aid, financial assistance, and health insurance navigation. The Legal Aid Society was recently awarded over $270,000 in federal funds as part of the 2022 CMS Navigator Cooperative Agreement awards.

In this Q&A, Liu discusses Legal Aid Society’s plans to implement the funding, as well as preparing for the end of the federal public health emergency, which will prompt eligibility redeterminations for the state’s Medicaid program.

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State of Reform: What are some of the Legal Aid Society’s target populations for legal advice and health insurance navigator services?

Connie Liu: “Legal Aid Society of Hawaii primarily focuses on family, consumer public benefits, immigration, and housing types of issues. Generally we try to reach out to vulnerable populations. We typically target groups that are below the federal poverty level, and provide everything from counseling advice to full representation on these different types of issues.”

SOR: What are some of the unique barriers your target populations face when accessing the services they need?

CL: “We primarily come in contact with people who are newly arrived or immigrants to the US. Typically, when they come, they don’t necessarily have all the documents that they need in order to complete things like application for things like a social security card, or even having the understanding of how American insurance works. Those are some of the barriers, especially since there are so many different systems.

There’s Medicaid, there’s private health insurance—being able to understand and navigate through that and the different rules that are involved can be complex. For immigrant populations, having a limited English proficiency can be difficult when trying to go through that application. We do have a navigator who assists with that.”

SOR: The Legal Aid Society was a recipient of the 2022 CMS Navigator Cooperative Agreement awards. How do you plan to utilize the funding?

CL: “That’s still a work in progress for us, but it does give us an opportunity to develop materials for outreach. Social media is such a big way for reaching people, to figure out if that could be a viable outlet as far as providing more education for folks. [The funding] will go ahead and try to support more staff and as we try to think of more creative ideas on how to educate people more about insurance and how to access it.”

SOR: The upcoming end of the federal public health emergency means that the state Medicaid program will have to redefine its beneficiaries’ eligibility status. What role does the Legal Aid Society play as the state prepares for redetermination?

CL: “We do work pretty closely with the Med-QUEST office in Hawaii. Some of the big things is reminding people to update their information with Med-QUEST so that when they get the renewal forms, they can fill it out. A lot of it is a push for making sure people have updated information with them, and the necessary documents that they need in order to do any kind of any further applications down the road. A huge part is just making sure people have updated information.”

SOR: As part of the Navigator Cooperative Agreement award, the Legal Aid Society listed several organizations they will serve, such as Next Step Shelter, Safe Haven, and Kuhio Park Terrace. How do those relationships influence the scope of your work?

CL: “Community partners are huge in our work. That’s how we get to be able to find out which families need assistance, and which consumers out there need help. We work closely with them Lanakila Health Center, which has a bilingual access division. It’s a center that a lot of people go to for tuberculosis clearance. It’s a common point where people come to meet people. Our partnership with them is just so vital and important, and we thank them very much for how they’ve been partnering with us.

One of our other navigators is part of the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) community. She is able to use her language skills and her own knowledge of the different activities and groups that are happening, whether it’s churches, or even setting up at the towers of Kuhio Park, to Parents and Children Together. Being able to be there to help people who speak her language or from her community understand. [She checks] if they have health insurance and if they need assistance with that.

Our community partners are huge, and not just in our health insurance work, but often all of our other types of work, whether it’s our homeless work as well. As far as going to shelters, and sometimes even at the shelters, they’ll meet people who need help with insurance, you’re able to have staff be able to connect them to those sources.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

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