Obamacare fair

The state’s health-insurance exchange comes to Chico State for enrollees

Covered California’s information fair at Chico State lured students in with free pizza.

Covered California’s information fair at Chico State lured students in with free pizza.

PHOTOs by howard hardee

What, one might wonder, is the best way to get Chico State students interested in Covered California, the state’s health-insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act?

Hiring a DJ and offering free pizza from Woodstock’s Pizza was the approach taken at the Covered California information fair held last Thursday afternoon (Oct. 10) at Chico State’s Trinity Commons, where a series of booths offered the opportunity to enroll in the exchange, which opened nationwide on Oct. 1. Several speakers, including the exchange’s executive director, Peter V. Lee, emphasized the importance of health coverage to the few dozen students in attendance.

“Many of you are here because you know you need health care,” Lee said, while conceding that, “Some of you are here because of the pizza.”

Lee said the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “decided health insurance is a right, not a privilege. It’s a big deal for the nation, for the state. It’s a big deal for Chico, for many working Californians, for students.”

Joey Telitz, a 24-year-old senior business-administration major, was admittedly one of those students interested exclusively in pizza, though he offered his take on Obamacare, as the ACA is commonly called.

“I feel like there are more pressing issues,” he said, citing national debt as a more relevant concern, and adding that as a business major, he naturally dislikes increased government intervention. “Obama wants to be remembered like [Franklin D. Roosevelt] with the New Deal stuff, like it’ll be his legacy.”

Telitz then proceeded to display a decidedly passive attitude toward the information fair and Obamacare in general. “I don’t know anything, really,” he shrugged. “I think Obamacare’s stupid. … I just want some pizza.”

Whether Telitz cares or not, members of his age group—who, in ACA lingo, are referred to as “young invincibles” because of their tendency to think they won’t get sick and need health care—are the primary target of Covered California’s outreach campaign. In order for the exchange to work (as explained in CN&R cover story “Looking for buy-in,” Oct. 3) enough young, healthy people need to participate in the exchange to offset the cost of the older, sicker, more expensive enrollees.

Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California and a speaker at the fair.

Photo By Howard Hardee

But misinformation—or, in some cases, no information—seems to be Covered California’s biggest obstacle on the state’s college campuses. At the fair at Chico State, Natalia Butler, outreach and education coordinator at Women’s Health Specialists, used an iPad to give students a rough idea of what insurance through Covered California likely would cost, and allowed them to sort through available plans. She found that many of the students are unfamiliar with the exchange.

“A lot of the people I’ve talked to have heard of the Affordable Care Act, but don’t know anything about Covered California,” she said. “They don’t know what it is. I’ve done a lot of explaining the basics. All they know is that there’s a penalty [at tax time for those without insurance], but they aren’t seeing all the benefits.

“A lot of people will qualify for free health care—especially in the student population.”

The Student Health Center receives about 30,000 visits a year, meaning each Chico State student averages about two annual visits, said Dr. Deborah Stewart, the health center’s medical chief of staff, when introducing Lee. About a third of those students are uninsured.

Stewart said that for Chico State students, relying on the health center alone is risky because students’ access to the center is limited to business hours—8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday—and that outside of those times, those in need of medical services are directed to an immediate-care clinic or an emergency room, which is a costly proposition for an uninsured student.

One such student is Cammi Carter, a 20-year-old junior communication-design major who was at the information fair due to a genuine interest in enrolling in Covered California. Though she’s not sold on the idea—she said she “would like to know everything” before signing up for the exchange—the prospect of subsidized health care is appealing to her.

“For me, it’s a positive because I don’t have enough to afford health care at the moment,” Carter said. “If I were to break an arm, it would cost me a lot of money … and I have to pay for my tuition.”

Carter expressed a sentiment likely shared by many of her peers—that informing oneself about the sweeping federal law is easier said than done.

“I think it’s that way for most of Americans,” she said. “Not a lot of people are willing to actually read a bill.”

Overall, Carter said she believes that providing college students with information about the health-insurance exchange is helpful. “I think it’s good they’re doing this and getting it out there, so kids on campus know what’s available to them,” she said.