Reaching rural residents or those with limited transportation has always been a challenge in benefits outreach and enrollment efforts. The Connecticut State Health Insurance Assistance Program, CHOICES, literally has taken outreach on the road by purchasing a satellite-equipped vehicle that helps the state conduct benefits screenings across Connecticut.

Who was the target audience?

Populations (seniors and their families and caregivers, persons with disabilities) potentially eligible for public benefits programs, community-based organizations, agencies administering benefits programs, and benefits counselors

What did they do?

In 2005, CHOICES purchased an RV thanks to a grant from the State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program, in preparation for the launch of Medicare Part D. The wheelchair-accessible vehicle – referred to as the DSS Rx-Xpress Bus or simply “The Bus” – is equipped with a satellite dish for Internet access, four separate computer workstations, printer/scanner/fax, TV, DVD, VCR, SMART board technology (for training) and a wall of brochures.

Using the Medicare Plan Finder Tool, BenefitsCheckUp®, and the state Medicaid system online, The Bus provides outreach, one-on-one counseling and application assistance to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and their caregivers. It can also serve as a crisis mobile command center. Locations for The Bus are kept updated on the Connecticut Aging Services Division website, and communities can also request The Bus come to their neighborhood or event.

What was the result?

The Bus has provided services to almost every one of Connecticut’s 169 urban and rural towns. As an entirely self-contained operation, The Bus easily can piggyback on activities of other organizations, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or Food Stamps) outreach, community kitchens, health clinics, street fairs, and farmers’ markets. Its mobility and connectivity mean staff always feel safe working out of The Bus and this has improved access to the locations that are hardest to reach or the most difficult to serve.

The Bus also has enabled CHOICES to provide training to new benefits counselors, community partners and staff in rural areas – and its value is increasingly recognized in the community. People even have requested the Bus to come to their community for the annual Medicare Part D Open Enrollment Period.

The annual operating cost of the bus (fuel, maintenance, paid drivers, etc.) averages around $50,000 (excluding the actual cost of the vehicle and satellite services). (Note: these costs are paid from general state monies and not through SHIP or MIPPA funding.) But, as former CHOICES Director Jennifer Throwe notes, similar initiatives can be done with less financial outlay – the state of South Carolina has achieved comparable results thanks to the donation of a used vehicle.