February 6, 2014
In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama asked for “every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31,” the approaching enrollment deadline. This semester, Hamilton students are doing their part to fulfill the President’s challenge, and help add to the over nine million individuals who have already signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Under the new healthcare law, uninsured Americans are required to enroll in a health insurance plan by March 31, or else they will face a financial penalty.
In order to facilitate enrollment in this program, the federal government has launched an online marketplace, www.healthcare.gov. This site allows individuals to compare available plans and apply for health care coverage. In addition, individual states have established their own online health insurance exchanges.
The state marketplaces opened to the public on Oct. 1, 2013. In New York, as of Feb. 3 2014, over 600,000 individuals had sucessfully completed applications and almost 400,000 are now covered under Obamacare.
Though these websites have lessened many Americans’ anxiety and clarified the process of applying for health care coverage, a significant portion of the population has also experienced difficulty navigating these websites. These difficulties range from a lack of understanding of the new law and to the website itself.
With the deadline for health-care enrollment imminent, a group of Hamilton students has taken the initiative to help residents in Utica and the surrounding area sign up for health care. The Hamilton Health Care Network, which was founded this year, is a new organization committed to educating people in the Utica area about the Affordable Care Act, and assisting them with the process of signing up for health insurance through the new healthcare exchanges before the upcoming deadline.
To fulfill this mission, the group takes weekly trips to the Utica Public Library where they set up tables in the main room and reserve a computer room. They hand out brochures, answer questions and, if need be, help people sign up for insurance on the spot. All services the group offers are completely free.
Alex Mitko ’16, founder of the Hamilton Health Care Network, said that he developed the idea for the organization at the end of the fall 2013 semester in response to the impending deadline for sign-ups. He sees the student organization as a small way to make a huge impact upon the surrounding community.
“[Health care reform] is something a lot people are unaware of,” Mitko said. For this reason, he knew that he and his peers needed to act quickly in order to make a difference.
Mitko formed the group by word of mouth, sharing his idea with people he thought may be interested. Quickly, a small group formed consisting of John DeGuardi ’16, Elizabeth Larson ’16, Alex Kaplan ’16, Pat Marris ’16 and Austin Durham ’15.
Coordinator of Special Programs Amy James and Hamilton’s Community Outreach and Opportunity Project (COOP) have also helped the group get off the ground by providing them with financial aid and practical resources like transportation to and from Utica.
The organization began its efforts in Utica on Jan. 25 and has continued its work there every Saturday since. While in Utica, the Hamilton Healthcare Network holds free information sessions each Saturday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Utica Public Library.
During each session, members of the organization are available to answer questions about the Affordable Care Act, to distribute flyers, and to help interested individuals and families enroll in healthcare packages through the new marketplaces.
In order to successfully aid residents, the six students involved learned the intricacies of the enrollment websites with assistance from Diana Haldenwang of the Mohawk Valley Perinatal Network, an organization specially trained to help community members navigate the health insurance marketplaces.
Though the group has yet to assist anyone in registering for health care firsthand, the students have been a tremendous help to the many people who took their brochures and fielded questions about how their friends and family would benefit from the Obamacare program.
Members of the Hamilton Health Care Network are optimistic that their online and print advertisements will inform more residents in the area about the healthcare conditions and encourage them to seek more information and assistance. Together with the Mohawk Valley Perinatal Network, these students will work through March and hope to register as many individuals before the upcoming deadline.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Hamilton Health Care Network, contact Alex Mitko ’16 at firstname.lastname@example.org.