MIAMI (AP) - As federal health officials are aggressively courting young adults to sign up for health insurance with celebrity endorsement and social media campaigns, they are also getting significant help from the very demographic they're targeting.
Busy medical, nursing and law students across Florida are getting certified as counselors and are staffing enrollment events as the March 31 deadline to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act looms. Many of the students were active in outreach programs to provide medical and legal services in low-income neighborhoods, but being "able to sign up patients for health insurance and get coverage that's more than just one time care really completes the circle," said Ali Moody, a second year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
More than 60 UM medical students went through a five-hour training to become certified application counselors and have enrolled more than 50 people since December. They've staffed several major enrollment events as well as manned tables daily outside their school, where they end up enrolling many low-income patients recently released from the nearby hospital.
University of Miami's medical school places a strong emphasis on connecting students to underserved communities "so it's natural to have them take an active role in getting the same patients enrolled in the Affordable Care Act so they get preventive care more frequently and keep them out of the emergency room," said Donna Shalala, the school's president and former Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bill Clinton.
Farther south at Florida International University in Miami, seven students were crammed around a massive conference table this week trying to sign up for health insurance on their laptops.
Law students Allan Zullinger, 28, and Anthony Rouzier, 27, hustle back and forth across the room, overseeing two and three enrollees at a time, all in various stages of the application process, explaining to a professor and his wife that they must use next year's tax income to determine if they are eligible for a subsidy and telling a student that they may qualify for insurance under their parents' plan because they are under the age of 26.
Rouzier frequently peers over Valentina Adarraga's laptop, cheering her on, getting on the phone with federal health officials when her application stalls and explaining various health plans during the nearly three-hour long process.
The 20-year-old ultimately chose a silver plan with a $22 monthly premium, thanks to a $119 tax credit. Adarraga, a full-time student, also works part-time as a beach attendant.
"It's good to know I'm not going to be denied assistance," said Adarraga, who has been without insurance for several months and recently couldn't get treatment when she tried to see a doctor for serious migraines. She tried signing up on her own online, but wasn't able to complete the process.
While working at the university's law clinic, Zullinger often saw "people that didn't have insurance and then something happens that's out of control, whether it's a car accident and they have to go to the hospital and they're stuck with a six, seven, ten thousand dollar bill and it completely disrupts their life."
After he got hit by a car while riding his bicycle last fall, he signed up for a health plan through the exchange and felt it was a natural progression to do the same for clients at the law clinic and his fellow students. He recruited Rouzier and together, they went through the certification process.
Since February, they've counseled more than 200 students and their families, many who fall into a gap where they can't get coverage because Florida didn't expand Medicaid. They enrolled nearly 50, but many are still choosing plans and they expect an influx in the next week.
"We understand that it's going to take people like us to make it work," said Zullinger, who volunteers more than a dozen hours a week enrolling people. "It's an experiment almost and we understand that we have to put the labor in right now."
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