Navigator Ramona L. Mills (left), with Southside Medical Center in Atlanta, answers questions at the East Lake YMCA about how to apply for health insurance through the new exchanges. Photo by Stell Simonton|Youth Today
ATLANTA -- People trickled into the multipurpose room at Atlanta’s East Lake YMCA on a Wednesday night, some with children in tow. They were there to learn about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
In the white room with cinder-block walls, 30 chairs sat in readiness. James Ramirez, with the nonprofit Enroll America, stood at the front. The dozen or so people present had plenty of questions about the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Should I go to the website or sign up another way?
Can I change plans after I enroll?
Do you have to pick a doctor?
How do you pay?
The YMCA is among youth organizations around the country that are making it their business to inform citizens about the Affordable Care Act. They are partnering with groups to hold information sessions that can help people sign up for health insurance through the new health exchanges.
Some organizations are finding social media to be a powerful outreach tool. Youth M.O.V.E. National board member Antonio Wilson discovered a large group of interested people through his Facebook page.
Youth M.O.V.E. is an advocacy group for young people; it seeks to unite the voices of those who have experienced the juvenile justice, mental health or child welfare systems.
Wilson frequently holds chats on his “Antonio After Dark” Facebook page and he has a large LBGTQ following. More than 600 followers commented on his chat on the Affordable Care Act. He said many expressed surprise that they could get insurance for a relatively low price. “People did not know about it,” he said. They had not gotten information through traditional media. They don’t watch the news, he said, and they had many questions. Wilson answered questions and sent people to specific parts of the healthcare.gov website.
Youth M.O.V.E. has developed educational materials aimed at people ages 18 to 34, said executive director Lacy Kendrick Burk. The group has 70 chapters across the country.
A Vermont organization known for its work with homeless and at-risk youth is moving energetically to inform young people ages 18 to 24 about new health insurance options. Spectrum Youth & Family Services aims to enroll 300 young people in insurance during the first year. It operates a drop-in center in Burlington where four of the six staff members have become licensed as navigators to handle enrollment.
The center, which serves kids as young as 14, offers meals and showers. It’s a place they can do laundry, use a computer, use the phone and get other basic needs met. Thirty to 35 young people come through the drop-in center each day, said Bridget LaRoche, Spectrum's drop-in and outreach coordinator. Staff members can help the youth apply for jobs, housing and state benefits.
Health insurance enrollment fits with the work the organization already does, LaRoche said. “We’re making sure homeless and low- or no-income youth take full advantage of the benefits they’re eligible for.”
Spectrum gained a grant from the state to expand its center to educate people. It has also set up tables at local colleges and a shopping center with health care enrollment information.
Outreach is happening at both the grassroots and national level.
The Atlanta event was sponsored by the YMCA and Whitefoord Inc., a local nonprofit devoted to health care and education services for children and families.
Dorian C. Martindale of Whitefoord had simply walked into the Y one day and suggested the event. He is a navigator in Georgia, an individual trained and certified to handle enrollment.
Organizers promoted the event by handing out fliers at the Y’s fall festival. Whitefoord sent emails to people in the surrounding East Lake neighborhood.
On a national scale, the YMCA is partnering with Humana in states where the insurance company offers plans through the health exchange. They are Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix, parts of Mississippi, Louisville, Ken., and Austin, San Antonio and Houston, Texas. By Nov. 1, a total of 92 informational seminars had been scheduled at YMCAs in those areas.