By Chrystel Murrieta and Joanna Garcia, Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members, AltaMed Health Services
As mentioned in our previous blog post, Community HealthCorps® is celebrating this year’s Open Enrollment season by sharing stories of how our AmeriCorps members are able to create healthier futures by connecting individuals to health care coverage. Our third and final spotlight comes from Chrystel Murrieta and Joanna Garcia, both serving their second year with our AltaMed Health Services team in Los Angeles, CA.
With the third Open Enrollment period in full swing, memories of last year’s enrollment season immediately come to mind. During our first year of service as Community HealthCorps® AmeriCorps members with AltaMed Health Services we partnered with the California State University Health Insurance Education Project (HIEP) to take on the challenge of enrolling “young invicibles” throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. Targeting a population defined by their young age–typically 18 to 25–and a lack of interest in gaining insurance coverage, our main strategy was to go directly to them. As Certified Enrollment Counselors, our “ACA Team” went out to various local college campuses several days a week, offering enrollment and referral services to students and their friends and families.
Oftentimes, because we served so many individuals during these office hours, the days blurred together. But every once in a while, we had moments that connected our service beyond the daily rush of enrollment to a deeper understanding of the individuals we serve and how getting covered can definitively impact their lives.
One of those moments happened early on a Tuesday morning. Our team was having a busy day at Cal State’s LA campus when two young sisters walked in seeking more information on what documents they needed to enroll. After handing them an enrollment checklist, they quickly looked up and said, almost in unison:
“Well we have a Social Security under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) and an Employment Authorization Card, but in the past, all we have ever qualified for has been Emergency Medi-Cal.”
Although we weren’t too familiar with DACA, we were certain that if the sisters met the income requirements they would most likely qualify for full-scope Medi-Cal. Upon hearing this explanation, the sisters just looked at each other in awe.
“So, we could go get a physical and visit the eye doctor?!”
When we responded yes, an ecstatic look beamed across their faces. Their voices echoed a mix of disbelief and new hope for having regular access to health care. This was a vast improvement over their current “emergency insurance,” which only covered them if they were in an accident and/or the hospital. Now they could get the health care they needed at any time, not just in dire straits.
This encounter made us realize that there are people–even young invincibles–that want health coverage and are willing to purchase it but have other barriers, like misinformation about eligibility, preventing them from attempting to enroll. Luckily, word-of-mouth spread across the Cal State campuses, inspiring individuals like these sisters to visit our team and find out more about their options and benefits for obtaining health insurance. We’re proud to say that from November 2014 to February 2015, our team provided over 400 individuals with insurance enrollment assistance, resources, or referrals. With our help, the percentage of uninsured Cal State students has decreased to the single digits!