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Push For Health Care Enrollment Continues

By: Stacy M. Brown
From public service announcements featuring animals, to high-profile town hall events, President Barack Obama and supporters of the Affordable Care Act are racing to enroll residents in new insurance plans offered under the administration’s signature health care law.

“They are not kidding around,” said Lavinia Cooke, a Northwest resident and Howard University sophomore who noticed several new fliers posted around the school that reminded individuals that the deadline to enroll has rapidly approached.

“I’ve seen posters in laundromats, in stores and even in bars telling everyone that they had until March 31 to get covered,” said Cooke, 20.

With research showing more than 80 percent of Americans still unaware of the looming deadline, Enroll America, a nonprofit based in Northwest that’s focused on maximizing the number of residents who are enrolled in and retain health coverage, has partnered with the Ad Council, based in Northwest, to launch a new national campaign to raise awareness, educate and motivate individuals to sign up.

The campaign, which focuses on women between 18 and 34, uses pets as spokespersons. “We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, relatable and easy to digest,” said Rodrigo Butori, the ad’s creative director.

“We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets,” Butori said. “They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages, so it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.”

Obama has revamped his schedule to participate in the final enrollment drive.

The president will host a town hall for Latinos at the Newseum in Northwest on Thursday, March 6 at 11:30 a.m.

White House officials said the president, who’s invited several Spanish media outlets to participate, will take questions during the event.

More than 10.2 million uninsured Latinos are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act and about 8.1 million likely will receive tax credits if they enroll, officials said.

The enrollment push also involves a number of local organizations, including the Alexandria, Va.-based United Way Worldwide and the Northwest-based Young Invincibles and American Cancer Society, each which have sponsored events over the past few weeks to help individuals sign up for coverage.

David Bransfield counts among those trying to track down the young and uninsured. Armed with an Apple laptop and a pile of fliers, Bransfield has set up a table nearly every day in the lobby of a University of the District of Columbia classroom building in Northwest.

“Do you guys have health insurance?” Bransfield regularly asks each time a group of college students passes by. Some nod yes. A few promise to stop back after class. Others don’t bother removing their headphones, he said.

Reportedly, the administration had been lagging behind in meeting its goal.

Young adults made up about one-fourth of the 2.2 million people who enrolled in the exchanges through December, the last time the administration released demographic data.

Critics of the health care law said young people were most like-ly to be turned off by the massive technical problems that marred the first two months of online sign-ups.

They also have argued that some young people will opt to pay the $95 penalty for not enrolling rather than pay more to get covered.

A December Gallup poll found that 26 percent of uninsured people under the age of 30 intended to pay the fine rather than enroll.

But, administration officials and others are working throughout the District to “meet people where they are at,” said Marlon Marshall, who oversees health care outreach for Obama.

D.C.’s health insurance marketplace officials said they’ve continued to make progress toward enrolling everyone in the District.

More than 26,000 residents have signed up for private health plans or Medicaid since October and DC Health Link’s plans are attracting many younger residents, officials said.

About 37 percent of those who have purchased coverage are between 26 and 34.

In an email, Linda Wharton-Boyd, the director of External Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority in Northwest, said prior to the exchange’s roll-out, the District had 37,000 uninsured residents and 20,000 individuals purchasing coverage directly from insurers.

“At 26,000 enrollees so far, DC Health Link still has a long way to go to reach both of these populations,” Wharton-Boyd said.

“Recently, DC Health Link formed a partnership with faith-based groups which will help connect community assisters and brokers to residents each week during services. Community-based initiatives such as these are important to connect with the hardest to reach populations.”