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Mining data for a map to the uninsured

Affordable Care Act navigator Adrian Madriz (R) speaks with Lourdes Duenas, who is looking for health insurance, during a navigation session put on by the Epilepsy Foundation Florida to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act on October 8, 2013 in Miami, Florida. 

Truchil's map provided a valuable visual aid for finding Camden's uninsured. Using realtime data from the city's hospitals, the nonprofit's data whiz found which neighborhoods need the most attention from workers to sign up new patients.

Last month, just before the health exchanges opened, reality kicked in for Elizabeth Buck.

“We have a huge number of uninsured in Camden, about 15,000. And we have this short window of time to enroll residents,” she says.

So Buck, who is overseeing ACA enrollment for the non-profit Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, poked her head into Aaron Truchil’s office. Buck wanted Truchil, the coalition’s data whiz, to convert the hospital data the coalition has collected for a decade into something she could use to find Camden’s uninsured, nearly 20 percent of the city’s population.

Twenty-four hours later, Truchil produced a color coded map, broken down by neighborhood, shading sections of the city with high concentrations of the uninsured a deep red.

“The city is 9 square miles, not huge but it’s definitely too big for a few people out in the streets trying to go out and knock on doors,” he says.

Truchil’s creation brings a little science to the art of getting people to sign up for Obamacare.

The coalition is one of the few groups in the country to gather real time data from its hospitals.

“Whenever an uninsured patient comes to the hospital or the emergency room, there is a bill generated for that,” says Jeff Brenner, the coalition’s executive director. “That’s a giant list of everyone who is uninsured.”

Brenner says those bills could be the key to getting people insured. But translating that data into something useable right now is time-consuming and cumbersome. 

“It’s like building a house with a handsaw and a hammer. We need to move to power tools,” says Brenner.

Brenner hopes one of the power tools is Blue Labs, a firm formed by a group of crack data crunchers from Obama’s 2012 campaign.

Blue Labs’ Erek Dyskant says he wants to get more up-to-the-minute maps into the coalition’s hands. “Really what we are looking to do is shorten that cycle so that the hospital can automatically send data to the Camden Coalition,” he says.

The more souped up process may not kick in until next fall. 

Until then, the coalition will rely 2012 data, because, even last year’s maps are better than no maps.

 

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

Truchil's map provided a valuable visual aid for finding Camden's uninsured. Using realtime data from the city's hospitals, the nonprofit's data whiz found which neighborhoods need the most attention from workers to sign up new patients.

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