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National campaign encourages younger generation to get healthcare

The Las Cruces Sun-News

By: Matlin Smith

It’s not fun, or sexy, or cool, but it is necessary, according to officials last month who encouraged students sitting in the commons area of Doña Ana County Community College to register for health care through the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.

With the open enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, approaching March 31, officials with the national Young Invincibles group launched the Healthy Young America campaign to target the younger demographic (ages 18 to 34), who don’t have health insurance on their own or through their parents, to register for health care.

After enrollment ends on March 31, open enrollment for 2015 begins on Nov. 15. Anyone who is not insured in that time frame may have to pay a penalty fee.

Doña Ana Community College literacy group members Agaly Komarek and Trudi Barkes go over notes while on the DACC main campus. Statistics indicate that 70 percent of vocational and community college students do not have healthcare coverage, something a campaign by Young Invincibles hopes to change.

According to the ACA website, the penalty in 2014 is calculated one of two ways: 1 percent of your yearly household income or $95 per person for the year, with $47.50 per child younger than 18. If penalized, the fine charged will be whichever of the two options is higher.

Statistics indicate that 70 percent of vocational and community college students are not covered, said Terriane Everhart, with NMHIX.

“You’re young and healthy and don’t think anything bad will happen,” she told the DACC audience during the campaign launch.

Everhart said the health exchange offers people the chance to compare plans and see what federal subsidies are available to them with the help of a new comparison tool on the website.

People with health insurance are more likely to seek out care — including preventable care — and resources, said Amy Collins, DACC associate professor in the Public Health Program.

Young Invincibles aren’t the only ones helping the younger generation wade through the new law, and its implications.

Recently, student groups in the New Mexico State University College of Health and Social Services received a $3,000 grant to provide literature and information to their peers on campus on enrolling in health care coverage through ACA, according to a release from the university.

Statistics indicate that 70 percent of vocational and community college students, like those at Doña Ana Community College, do not have healthcare coverage, something a campaign by Young Invincibles hopes to change. (Niki Rhynes — For the Sun-News)

Two physicians and a business school professor at the University of New Mexico also developed a smartphone and tablet application, called “Get Covered New Mexico,” tailored specifically for the younger generation who tend to use their phones more often to get information.

The app is intended to provide users with “truthful, solid information about what the ACA is and isn’t,” said co-developer Dr. Erin Corriveau, with UNM, in a release from the university.

While the free “Get Covered” app doesn’t allow users to enroll in health insurance programs, features of the app include:

•Tools and information to help users understand their health insurance options

•Where they can apply for coverage

•What documentation they’ll need to enroll

•A calculator that allows users to enter income and other information, and then returns information on what kind of insurance coverage the user might be eligible for under NMHIX.

•A map that uses GPS technology to identify sites where users can get help enrolling in coverage

But Obamacare has been met with varying reactions from the demographic which the Healthy Young America campaign hopes to target.

Ariel Martinez, 21, said she will be taking the penalty over enrolling for health insurance, saying it “should be a choice and not a must.”

After meeting the issues many experienced with the government’s website, health, Martinez said in a post on the Sun-News Facebook page that, months later, she found out the plans offered through Obamacare were too expensive for her.

“I rarely go to the doctors and will never meet my ($3,000) deductible,” she posted. “I personally have an emergency savings account. It’s not much, but enough to cover a doctor’s visit if needed. Hopefully, it’ll last until next presidential election.”

NMSU public health student Jonah Barnes-Moore, 21, is on his parents’ insurance plan, but said health insurance, while an unpopular subject with his peers, is important.

“I think it’s important for people my age to have health care because accidents happen all the time, whether it’s at the gym, car accidents or just getting sick — period,” he said. “Health care is one of those things where it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

As part of the ACA, young adults like Barnes-Moore are able to remain on their parents’ insurance plans until they turn 26.

Austin Pickrell, 23, is currently on his father’s insurance, but after he turns 26, he said he plans to pay the penalty until, he said, it is more expensive than purchasing a plan, or until he receives insurance through an employer.

The NMSU senior majoring in economics is the state chair for Young Americans for Liberty — a student group comprised of libertarians and conservatives — and the NMSU chapter’s president.

He said his plan to pay the penalty stems from how his family was affected by the implantation of the ACA, which provided his father with a choice between two new coverage plans: one that covered routine visits to the doctor but hardly major treatments, or one that barely helped with routine visits, but covered a greater amount in case of an emergency.

“Understandably, he chose the plan that covered us in emergencies, but now it’s far more expensive for me and my sister to seek out simple care such as antibiotics for a cold, routine STD screenings or maybe a sprained ankle,” Pickrell said in an email. “These small issues are what people my age face, and now it is far more prohibitive for us to seek the care required.”

Pickrell said that while he relates to the Young Invincibles and their effort to give young adults a voice in health care, they fail to highlight the negative repercussions of the ACA, like an increase in the cost of care, he said.

“Instead of blindly signing up for a new plan, I would encourage young adults to instead learn the economics behind health care and promote tried-and-true methods of lowering costs and increasing coverage, methods which are not present in the ACA,” he said. “In economics, you learn quickly that there is no such thing a free lunch … Even if I was able to receive completely free health care through the ACA, that money is coming from someone, hampering the economy that is supposed to be giving me a good job once I graduate.”

In a statement released be the NMSU College Democrats, the organization said that, while the ACA is not a perfect solution to America’s health care problems, it is a step in the right direction and called it a “victory” for American college students.

With the mandate that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance, organization president Elliot Parras said it affords young people time to graduate from college, find a job and make the adjustment to independent living.

“For those 26 and older, or without parental coverage, there is the option to enter the insurance exchange, which are marketplaces for finding the best option for each individual,” said Daniel Taylor, vice president of the College Democrats. “While many opponents of the ACA will argue that the premiums will be high, we have found that is not the case.”

In their statement, the organization cited the Department of Health and Human Services that says 46 percent of single, uninsured young adults can purchase a basic plan for less than $50 to $100 a month.

“Less expensive plans does not mean less coverage,” said group member Kathryn Sanchez. “Insurance companies can no longer discriminate on the basis of sex and they cannot drop you for a pre-existing condition. Birth control is also covered, which is so important for many young women.”

And the mandate enforcing a penalty for those without insurance?

“We understand how some young people may not consider it fair to be forced to buy health insurance or pay a penalty,” said group member Cris Rocha. “While we tend to be much healthier when we are younger, age and health issues eventually catch up with us.”

Requiring insurance for young people is, the statement said, a form of preventive, proactive health care.