With the open enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act approaching, the University of Maryland Baltimore County hosted an open healthcare exchange on Wednesday February 26, for students to explore their possibilities.
The law makes it mandatory for most Americans over the age of 18 to have some form of health insurance before March 31, 2014. If a person does not have insurance they could face a fine of either one percent of their household income or 95 dollars per person in a family, depending on which total is higher. Fortunately for most students, the law allows people to stay on their parents plans up to age 26, but even that will not help every UMBC student. Students have an option, through the exchange website to view plans that they can afford on student budgets.
“There are policies that run from catastrophic up to platinum. Students based on their income can either get Medicaid, because of the expanded Medicaid system. Or they could get subsidized premiums. If a plan is 100 dollars a month the government could offer to pay 26 dollars a month so you could get that coverage,” Cheryl Benitez of the University Health Services said.
The idea for the exchange came from the office of University President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, and the event was organized by Benitez and the UHS. Benitez invited two navigators from the state of Maryland to come to campus and walk students through the application process. Due to technical difficulties affecting the website, applying for coverage has been controversial over the last few months.
Marylanders are more fortunate than residents of other states, because Maryland has experience with health exchange websites. Even before the national law went into effect, Maryland had a similar website run on the state level, so difficulties here are less severe. Even so, having assistance with the website is important to UMBC senior Nnameke Onejeme who had difficutly figuring out the website on his own.
“I have been without insurance for a good year now, and I am looking to get through the process,” Onejeme said, “I have gone through the website a couple times but I have not been able to sign up because I always get slowed down.”
The event was not without its share of problems. Originally, UMBC wanted two navigators to assist, but only one showed up. This caused long waits and confusion for students who tried to have meetings in between their classes. Most students waited for about an hour before their meeting, and without a sign in sheet, the order of appointments was disorganized.
Benitez stepped in to fill the role of the other navigator and the exchange began to run smoothly. Most of the students at the event met with someone who could help them enroll, however a few students had to leave before they could be helped because they had to go to class.
According to ABCNews, only 22 percent of people signing up for the exchange are between the ages of 18-34, a number that the Obama Administration wants to increase to 40 percent. Young people see health insurance as too costly, and signing up is too time consuming, so events like this are being promoted at college campuses. At UMBC, the UHS sent out an email around campus to spread awareness, and have brought speakers to campus to talk about the law.
The Affordable Care Act is the center of on going controversy, but Benitez believes it will be essential for college students. She worked to make sure students could ignore the hype and understand the facts about the law. To her it was about getting students insured only, and she has an optimistic view of the future.
“Some people have never had health insurance because they were considered high risk, now everybody can go in and buy a plan that fits their needs,” Benitez said, “People do not realise how much being sick can change your life in an instance. In my opinion [the Affordable Care Act] is a very good thing to happen.”