Students and staff from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health received White House honors for their efforts to reach uninsured Americans and get them health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the uncertainty of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, under the new Trump administration, a group of public health students and staff from the University of Arizona have been honored by the White House for their efforts to educate and enroll fellow students and community members in health insurance coverage.
As part of the ongoing efforts to reach the remaining uninsured Americans, the White House launched the Healthy Campus Challenge in September, hoping to engage college and university campuses in health insurance enrollment efforts. More than 350 campuses from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico participated in the Challenge and carried out some enrollment activities, with nearly 100 campuses completing all the criteria.
The leaders from nearly 60 of those campuses, including the UA, attended Healthy Campus Challenge Day at the White House on Jan. 13 and were honored for their hard work during the ongoing open enrollment period. At the gathering, attendees shared creative ideas and brainstormed ways for them to work together moving forward.
Young adults remain one of the highest uninsured populations and often choose to pay the tax penalty if not on their parents’ health plan. Unexpected medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. A single night in the hospital could cost more than $30,000. Students have options. They can qualify for AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) due to Medicaid expansion in Arizona, stay on their parents’ insurance, register for student insurance at UA Campus Health, or sign up for the Marketplace on healthcare.gov to avoid unexpected, high medical costs.
The UA Center for Rural Health (CRH) trained health professions students from the UA Colleges of Public Health, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy to be certified application counselors and navigators, also known as certified assisters, through Project SHARE (Students Helping Arizona Register Everyone). As certified assisters, the students focused on enrollment and re-enrollment of hard-to-reach uninsured people living in rural and underserved communities in Arizona and fellow students.
Alyssa Padilla, special projects coordinator for the CRH at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, said the SHARE project has trained 60 students on health insurance coverage basics and as certified assisters. Project SHARE launched in 2015 thanks to a grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Project SHARE certified assisters offer free in-person assistance to enroll individuals in the Arizona health insurance marketplace, the Arizona Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)/Kidscare, and Medicaid (AHCCCS).
“Other universities and colleges bring certified assisters to campus; we train students directly,” explained Padilla. “Project SHARE is unique because we train students in health care and public health who often complete rural rotations and share their expertise with their families and friends. They become resource hubs for their social and professional networks when it comes to health insurance coverage.”
“The White House Healthy Campus Challenge Day was a great experience because we were able to hear from schools across the nation and learn about different approaches to increasing health insurance coverage among students and the greater community,” said Nicole Lorona, a navigator and UA public health student. “The UA SHARE program stood out among other schools in the way it trains health professions students as certified assisters, allowing students to develop a better understanding of health-care access while serving their communities.”
The CRH partnered with the UA Campus Health Service for the Challenge and to reach UA students, faculty and staff.
“The ACA has allowed a great many more students to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26, which has significantly decreased those who are uninsured in the college population. For students who need health insurance, we do our best to let them know they have options to get covered,” said David Salafsky, MPH, director of Health Promotion & Preventive Services at UA Campus Health Service.
At the Healthy Campus Challenge Day celebration, Former First Lady Michelle Obama joined representatives from winning schools for a group photo in the East Room of the White House.
According to the White House press release, the hope in holding the Challenge was to institutionalize these enrollment practices on campuses nationwide for future open enrollments.
“The White House connected us to a number of national nonprofits to learn about their enrollment efforts and potentially lay the foundation for future collaboration. The day further motivated me to help UA students and Pima County residents get the health insurance coverage they need,” said Ariel Hayes, navigator and UA public health and gender/women’s studies student.
Daniel Derksen, MD, director of the UA Center for Rural Health, cites the progress Arizona has made in reducing the uninsured through Medicaid (AHCCCS) restoration and expansion in 2014, restoring its Children's Health Insurance Program in September 2016, and through Arizona’s federally facilitated marketplace.
“For the 850,000 Arizonans who now depend on health insurance through ACA provisions, many are apprehensive about what will happen in 2017 and beyond. Helping Arizonans understand their coverage options, and assisting with their enrollment – through initiatives like the one honored in D.C. – are crucial if we are to build on our progress and improve coverage and assure access to high quality care,” said Dr. Derksen.
About Students Helping Arizona Register Everyone (SHARE)
Project SHARE, recognized by the White House, is a health professions student-led initiative to assist uninsured Arizonans with understanding their coverage options and help them enroll. Originally launched by Eric Lander and Jaymus Ryan Lee, medical students at the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix, respectively, the SHARE team includes students from the UA Colleges of Public Health, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. They are certified application counselors and navigators and receive their training from the UA Center for Rural Health in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Regional Center for Border Health, Inc., and the Western Region Public Health Training Center.