Health-care campaign reaches out to "young invincibles"

2013-10-10T00:00:00Z 2013-10-31T15:17:55Z Health-care campaign reaches out to "young invincibles"By Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Twenty-year-old Amy Escobar has no health insurance and says she doesn’t know anything about President Obama’s health law.

The Pima Community College student is paying her way through school with a part-time job, and health insurance is not in her budget.

Young adults like Escobar are the reason White House appointee Herb K. Schultz of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was at Pima Community College’s East Campus Wednesday morning.

Schultz, director of the Health and Human Services region that includes Arizona, wants young adults to know there are affordable insurance options for them through the federal health law, which is often referred to as the Affordable Care Act.

Equally important, Schultz said, is that no insurer can turn them away for having a pre-existing condition. He’s met with thousands of students and says he’s met a lot who were turned down for health insurance because they had childhood asthma, even though they’d grown out of it.

No one should have to go through life burdened with the worry that one major illness or accident could mean losing everything, he said.

Schultz has teamed with Pima Community College Chancellor Lee D. Lambert  and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild  to create a four-minute video about the health law that’s aimed at students. The video has been posted on the Pima Community College website.

Young adults have often been referred to by the health-care industry as the “young invincibles” on the assumption that this age group doesn’t purchase health insurance because they don’t think they need it.

But Schultz says that isn’t true. Young people want insurance, but they simply can’t afford it, he said.

Standing alongside Schultz on Wednesday was Erin Hemlin of the group Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit group that was founded in 2009 during the health-reform debate in Congress.

The group says if offered affordable health insurance, many young people would enroll.

And they aren’t invincible, either. One in six young adults has a chronic illness like cancer, diabetes or asthma, the federal government says. And a 2012 report from the Commonwealth Fund found more than one-third of young adults had problems paying medical bills.

The Young Invincibles group joined with the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund to produce a booklet of information about the Affordable Care Act. The green booklets were distributed to students Wednesday and outline major points of the law, including a provision that young people may stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26.

“Our message to young adults is to know your health insurance options,” said Diane E. Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group. “That may include

Dylan Kirk, a 19-year-old Pima Community College student says he’ll be on his parents’ plan at least until he graduates. But he turned up to hear Schultz and others talk about the law because he knew very little about it.

The two major takeaways from the event for Kirk were that insurers can no longer deny or drop people because of a pre-existing condition and that a lot of people don’t have health insurance.

He hadn’t realized how many. In Arizona, it’s more than a quarter of all of 18- to 24-year-olds. And 41 percent of Arizona Hispanics/Latinos are uninsured, research from the Young Invincibles says.

Schoolmate Escobar says she can’t remember ever having health insurance and can’t get it through her parents. Under provisions of the new health law, she could be eligible for Medicaid, a government insurance program for low-income people.

Arizona’s Medicaid program is expanding in January and will restore coverage to childless adults. If Escobar’s income from her part-time job exceeds $15,200, and if she doesn’t have employer-sponsored health insurance, she’ll be eligible for buying federally-subsidized insurance. Some plans cost less than $100 per month when subsidies are included.

Marketplaces for purchasing subsidized insurance opened Oct. 1 for purchasing coverage that begins Jan. 1. Open enrollment ends in March. There is a formula for determining noncompliance penalties.

Schultz and others urged students to ask questions by calling the federal hot line at 1-800-318-2596,  which is operating round the clock. Arizonans may purchase plans and find out whether they are eligible for federally subsidized insurance.

The federal government also has a website — www.healthcare.gov, or www.cuidadodesalud.gov where people can create accounts and purchase insurance. Arizonans have a choice of slightly more than 100 plans. The website will direct those who qualify for Medicaid to a portal where they can sign up for that.

The website has had some problems. People have reported long waits and a lack of response.

“There were 8.6 million unique visitors in the first 72 hours,” Schultz said. “With any big system there are going to be glitches. We have engineers working 24/7, adding server capacity, upgrading software. It is getting better every day.”

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134. On Twitter: @stephanieinnes

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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