Student body leaders from four local California State University campuses—Dominguez Hills, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Northridge—stood side-by-side with CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and CSU Dominguez Hills President Willie J. Hagan on Thursday, Feb. 13, in the auditorium of the CSU Dominguez Hills College of Extended and International Education and made an appeal to students that they help spread the word to their family and friends about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the new federal law that requires all Americans to have health insurance.
“I’m proud of CSU Dominguez Hills’ participation in this event and the role we students are playing in helping each other understand that quality affordable health care is accessible through Covered California and the Affordable Care Act,” said senior business major Gavin Centeno, president of the CSU Dominguez Hills Associated Students, Inc. (ASI).
The representatives from the three levels of leadership within the CSU were also joined by Herb Schultz, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace for subsidized plans under the ACA.
Nearly 100 students attended the noontime presentation and heard from the high-level panel not only facts about the new law, who it applies to, and how to sign up through Covered California, but also personal accounts of how having or not having insurance has affected their lives or that of their families.
“I’m glad you’re here to hear about it, and I’m glad you’re here to spread the word. It’s something that has such an impact on life if you don’t have it,” Hagan said, sharing that he was an uninsured college student when his first daughter was born. “There was no reason that we shouldn’t have had health insurance, but we just didn’t pay attention, and we had a child, whom we love dearly but who cost us a lot of money at a time that was very difficult as students.”
For Chancellor White it was a tale of how the Affordable Care Act benefited his adult sons—too old to be on their parents’ insurance and not covered through work. One son wound up with a $6,000 bill after a trip to emergency room. As of Jan. 1 both adult sons have insurance with plans they can afford through Covered California.
Although eye-opening to realize that the chancellor’s sons are insured through Covered California or that CSU Dominguez Hills’ president was once an uninsured college student, the focus of the afternoon was on students talking directly to students about the importance of the Affordable Care Act.
CSU Long Beach ASI chief of staff Joseph Phillips told of how because of ACA he will be able to get a quality health care plan for his young family that before he couldn’t have afforded on a $15,000 a year student income. Centeno relayed the story of a CSU Dominguez Hills student who lost coverage when he lost his job but was eligible for no-cost Medi-Cal via Covered California under the same health care provider.
CSU Long Beach ASI Vice President Jonathon Bolin saw the issue as a wake-up call.
“Nothing bad can ever happen to us until it does and then we realize that we are not invincible,” he said. “My girlfriend and I are starting our lives together, and I think about it, we’re graduating with about $20,000 worth of debt together, but what if we had gotten into an accident? And we were graduating with $120,000 worth of debt? It’s hard to even fathom that possibility and what that could do to our future.”
This kind of peer-to-peer communication is the hallmark of CSU Health Insurance Education Project (HIEP), which was created from a grant that Covered California awarded to Walter Zelman, chair of the Department of Public Health at CSU Los Angeles.
“Our project has about 35 student-educators spread out across 15 different campuses,” Zelman said. “Virtually all of them are currently enrolled in or are recent graduates of the school at which they are working. So this, we are very proud to say, is a very peer-to-peer project, students educating students, students talking to students.”
The teams of student-educators have been working since the fall semester to educate their peers through workshops and classroom presentations. Talar Alexanian, a CSU student trustee and ASI vice president at CSU Northridge, said efforts on her campus have included a festive interactive Get Covered event, where students went through “what if” rooms depicting various scenarios that could happen without insurance and what it would mean. She said some of the testimonials students left on an art wall.
“‘Now I can take this information and explain it to my family who doesn’t speak any English.’ ‘I was worried that I would get hurt playing ice hockey and not be able to afford the cost to receive care. I’m happy that’s not the case anymore. I just enrolled,’” said Alexanian, reading from student testimonials. “I’m excited to hear more of these statements from the students we serve as Northridge and our sister system campuses work together until the March 31 deadline.”
Thursday’s presentation was part of HIEP’s efforts to ramp up awareness leading up to March 31, which is the deadline for eligible individuals to enroll and receive subsidies for health insurance.
In the coming weeks campuses HIEP student-educators will be increasing their presence on their campuses. At CSU Los Angeles that includes a two-day workshop, said Nancy Flores, Cal State LA ASI representative for their College of Health and Human Services.
Aaron Reyes, HIEP student-educator at CSU Dominguez Hills, said he’s working with the Student Health Advisory Committee on campus on two upcoming workshops at which there will be certified enrollment counselors from Covered California to help individuals sign up for coverage.
Upcoming Covered California Workshops on campus
Thursday, Feb. 27, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., LSU meeting room 328
Thursday, March 6, 10 a.m. to noon, LSU 328
Tuesday, March 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., LSU Ballroom A
Thursday, March 20, 10 a.m. to noon, LSU 328
Thursday, March 27, 10 a.m. to noon, LSU 328
Covered California Director Peter Lee commended the CSU for what it is doing to reach the 30 percent of CSU students who do not have health insurance.
“The Cal State system has really shown such leadership, demonstrating that Cal State really does think about the health and welfare of its students,” Lee said.
For more information about HIEP, visit www.calstate.edu/coveredca.