Harm reduction journal 2017 05 1814(1) 26 doi 10.1186/s12954-017-0151-4
Little is known about access to health insurance among people who inject drugs (PWID) who attend syringe exchange programs (SEPs). The goal of the current study was to assess perceptions of SEP staff, including health navigators and program managers, on access to health insurance and healthcare access among SEP clients following implementation of state and federal policies to enhance universal healthcare access in Massachusetts.
Between December 2014 and January 2015, we conducted in-depth interviews (n = 14) with SEP staff, including both program managers and health navigators, to assess knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs related to health insurance enrollment and access to enhanced referrals among SEP clients. We developed a preliminary coding scheme from the interview guide and used a grounded theory approach to guide inclusion of subsequent thematic codes that emanated from the data. We analyzed the coded data thematically in an iterative fashion using a consensus-based approach.
We identified five primary themes that emerged from the qualitative interviews, including high levels of health insurance enrollment among SEP clients; barriers to enrolling in health insurance; highly needed referrals to services, including improved access to substance use disorder treatment and hepatitis C virus treatment; barriers to referring clients to these highly needed services; and recommendations for policy change.
While barriers to enrollment and highly needed referrals remain, access to and enrollment in healthcare insurance plans among PWID at SEPs in Massachusetts are high. With the uncertain stability of the Affordable Care Act following the US presidential election of 2016, our findings summarize the opportunities and challenges that are connected to health insurance and healthcare access in Massachusetts. SEPs can play an important role in facilitating access to health insurance and enhancing access to preventive health and primary care.