CALPIRG Seeks to Prepare Students for Health Care Reform

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When forced to take a leave of absence last year due to health reasons, second-year student and student health care advocate with the California Public Interest Research Group for Students (CALPIRG) Amy Coffin said she had learned firsthand the importance of health care coverage.

“It was a hard time for my family because it was scary not knowing what was going to happen with my health,” Coffin said. “The medical bills were really expensive.”

Coffin and her family managed the expenses, though not everyone in her situation could have. In light of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CALPIRG began their new campaign to answer questions, spread information and help students like Amy Coffin be better equipped to deal with health problems and get coverage under the new health laws of the ACA.

On Oct. 1, the marketplace for coverage options opened to the public, giving many the option to sign up and shop for insurance under the ACA. Coffin said that this information is vital for students who are in need of health insurance.

“Students have a lot of questions about health insurance. Many are uninsured or will be soon. CALPIRG is sharing information to help students find insurance that doesn’t break the bank,” Coffin said during a press conference on Oct. 9, near what is known as the Porter “squiggle.”

A group of about 10 CALPIRG student advocates gathered with signs bearing common questions that students have about the new health care reforms to kick off CALPIRG’s new campaign “California Health Insurance 101.”

Established at UC Santa Cruz about 40 years ago, CALPIRG is an entirely student-run and student-funded organization that advocates public interest in health, environmental and political issues each quarter. The group has grown to be one of eight chapters statewide and has advocates in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

While many of CALPIRG’s previous campaigns have included lobbying and advocating for legislative changes, “California Health Insurance 101” is the only campaign that was established solely for informative purposes. This campaign provides a print and online guide that speaks to the what, the why and the how of getting covered under the new health care system. It also gives information on financial assistance and other tips for students to navigate the new health care laws.

City council member Don Lane, a UCSC graduate who has served for nine years on the city council, said he is excited about the new reforms because it gives students an affordable option and urges students to be informed.

“The way it’s going to work is not just because the government does its part, but because people tell [their peers] about the importance of this change and the importance of signing up for health insurance,” Lane said. “Become a student of [California Health Insurance 101], get covered and take care of your health and the health of our community.”

CALPIRG campus organizer and UC Santa Barbara graduate, Becca Loux, said that this campaign is not advocating for or against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but just getting the information out there.

“Anyone can get sick, but it’s not just about that,” Loux said. “You’re kayaking, you’re partying, and there is always a level of risk. More than anything, people just need to know their options.”

The ACA, which was signed into law in March 2010 and launched on Oct. 1, reforms our health care system by expanding coverage, lowering health care costs and holding insurance companies accountable.

Some key changes under the new health law in California include the restructuring of insurance options under the new marketplace, Covered California. Their website allows people to compare health care plans and find out about financial assistance and the plans being offered in an accessible way.

As of January 2014, health insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage or raise rates to those with pre-existing conditions, who are guaranteed to need care. Also, raising rates exclusively for women is now illegal.

The ACA also creates new options for financial aid. If your income is less than about $46,000 for you alone or about $94,000 for a family of four, you are eligible for financial help. Additionally, a person earning less than about $16,000 or a family earning less than about $32,500 can get free or low-cost insurance. These new options will open doors for many students and their families who never considered health care as a possibility.

Monica Kim, a second-year and student activist who has worked with CALPIRG since coming to UCSC, said she has experienced the effect that these changes could have on families.

“My parents are immigrants and never considered health care an option, but they know its important,” Kim said. “This system and these tools to learn about it brings relief to families. It is no longer that they either can or can’t afford healthcare. They have different options.”